Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was in attendance Sunday night for Portland’s 75-67 victory versus the Houston Rockets at the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League. Before the game, Lillard discussed how he’s been keeping busy since the end of the season, beginning his offseason workouts earlier, making changes to his diet, his memories of playing in summer league, the upcoming tryouts for the 2014 USA Men’s National Team and how he’s trying to tailor his game for international play and why he loves living in Portland during the summer …
It seems like it’s been a busy summer for you so far. What have you been up to?
Damian Lillard: It’s been a great summer. Started working out a month or so earlier than I did last summer. I think I got a better feel for what I need to be doing as far as the timing going into the summer camps and getting ready for the next season. I think I’ve had a great summer so far. I’ve changed my diet a little bit, working out hard, which I always do and will do. But I think the most fun thing is I’ve had a lot of opportunities to impact people. I had a few events back home where I brought people out from the city, try to bring some positivity back to the city, getting people out and enjoying themselves instead of it always having to be something. That’s what I take the most pride in.
Being at my first session of camp every day the whole time and actually working with the kids and having a presence. And the same thing so far this week. I’ve really enjoyed being able to use my platform, the impact that I can have on people, kids, adults, teenagers. Whoever it is, I’ve really enjoyed embracing the fact that I can impact people as much as I can.
You mentioned changing your diet and returning to workouts sooner than last season. How is your body feeling now and what are some of those changes you’ve made?
Damian Lillard: Physically, I feel great. When I first started back working out, my legs were getting tired quick and I felt I was breathing heavy. Now I’m to the point where I can run. I can just go. I get tired, I breath hard, but I can still play while I’m like that.
As far as my diet, I just been eating a lot more healthy food, things that, when I sit at the table, I’m not looking forward to eating. So I know that must be good for me. And I’ve felt it. When I wake up in the morning I feel better. I don’t feel as heavy, more lively and refreshed. I’m excited about that, that I can discipline myself to do that.
Are there any particular parts of your body that you’re working on strengthening?
Damian Lillard: I want to stay strong, because I’m really strong right now, but I want to be slim and strong. I don’t want to be like stocky strong. Coming into training camp last year I was more stocky, but I want to be cut up. I want to be in better shape but I still want to be strong with my body that way. It’s been different exercises and resting as much as I train. I think being smarter has been a big part of that, Just laying down and going to sleep, get in the cold tub, not staying up as late so I’m just fresh. Stuff like that. I’ve taken a lot of advice from the dietician that the team brought in and my trainer that I do my conditioning with, Anthony Eggleton, about rest and stuff like that to help my body, stretching, all those types of things.
Being back here at the Las Vegas Summer League has to bring back some memories. In a lot of ways, this is where your professional career started.
Damian Lillard: It’s crazy, because how I felt coming back after winning Rookie of the Year is completely different from how I feel coming back this season. I feel like, when I come here, it’s like ‘I played in this a long time ago!’ That’s how I feel when I come here. It feels like a long time ago but there’s guys that I got drafted side-by-side that are playing in it right now. It’s good to see all the faces, it’s good to see the fans. They come out and support this like it’s the regular season. It’s a fun environment. Everybody comes out, you see all the media people from every team, you see national media, ESPN, Inside Stuff, Game Time, TNT, whatever it is. You see ex-players and guys trying to get back in the league. It’s great company. It’s good to be able to see all those people floating around.
The USA Basketball tryout is only a few weeks away. Are you ramping up to prepare for that?
Damian Lillard: I think I’m prepared. I’ve been working out really hard. I want to be in shape because I’m not going to have the responsibility that I have for the Trail Blazers. I’ve been shooting a lot of shots, making sure my jumper is as tight as it can possibly be, because I know I’m going to have to be able to knock down shots if I want to give myself a chance to make that team. And I’ve got to be able to “D” up. Without having the same responsibility I do with the Trail Blazers, I’m going to be able to pick up full court for my eight, nine minutes or however long I’ll be on the floor and play those eight or nine minutes as hard as I can to give something to the team and be able to make shots. I’ve been preparing myself for that.
How do you feel about your chances of making the team?
Damian Lillard: I like my chances. I’ve been hearing about people dropping out and stuff like that, but as a competitor, I liked my chances before that. Just because some guys have dropped out doesn’t mean I have a spot on the team, so I’m still going to go out there and compete and try to make an impression and get to the World Championships.
You’re one of the few guys who stays in Portland during the offseason. What do you think about Portland in the summer?
Damian Lillard: Man, I love Portland, especially when the weather changes and it goes from being cloudy and rainy and then the sun comes out. Nice days. They got a lot of restaurants where you can eat outside, there’s people everywhere, the downtown area is always popping off. It’s a fun city, it really is. I enjoy it. And also, a lot of people can go home and enjoy that time there. When I go home … I’m from a different type of city. It’s not always “Let’s have fun.” It’s “Watch your back” and “Watch where you go” and “Make sure you don’t go here at this time” and it’s really like that. For somebody like me, I really appreciate a place like Portland, just being able to be out and about. The worst thing that can happen to me is there is somebody might bump me and be like “Oh, that’s Damian Lillard.” I enjoy myself in Portland.
Playing in front of capacity crowds at arenas all across country is old hat for Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. But his next performance will be in front of a different kind of crowd, at a different type of venue and in a completely different trade.
Lillard announced today on his Twitter account that he would be holding his first full-scale concert under his nom de rap Dame D.O.L.L.A on July 15th, which happens to be his 26th birthday, at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland. The show is the latest sign of Lillard’s evolution as an artist, which started in earnest with his Four Bar Friday project, which grew into a regular Music Monday feature, then a music video that aired on national television and now a show in front of a live audience.
The 6-3 point guard/rapper has performed in front of small crowds before, most recently during an Adidas-sponsored trip to Manila, but has never held a real show with advanced ticketing at a legitimate venue. Lillard will be joined onstage by his cousin Brookfield Deuce, who has been featured on a number of Dame D.O.L.L.A tracks, with DJ OG One handling duties on the ones and twos, as the kids say. Lillard is also giving some stage time to local pastor Duoshun Pledgegure, who raps under the name Rose Ciddy and is a frequent participant in Lillard’s Four Bar Friday series. And who knows, perhaps one or two of his teammates decide to test their rap skills under the bright lights.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the show and can be purchased at the Crystal Ballroom’s website. There are only 1,500 tickets available, so if you want to go, you’d be wise to purchase asap.
The NBA’s July moratorium isn’t even over yet, so we’re still a ways away from knowing what Portland’s roster will look like come the start of the 2016-17 regular season. But there is no such mystery, at least not anymore, regarding who the Trail Blazers will be taking to Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, the team announced their 2016 Summer League roster and as expected, current Trail Blazers Noah Vonleh, Pat Connaughton, Cliff Alexander and Luis Montero are all on the team, as is rookie second round Jake Layman out of Maryland, who was acquired from the Magic during the 2016 Draft for a future second round pick and cash considerations. As for the rest of the roster, it’s rounded out with undrafted rookies, players who recently saw time in the D-League and overseas and even a few familiar faces…
Both Johnsons (no relation) have had previous runs with the Trail Blazers, with the lanky Chris playing a combined 30 games over the course of two seasons in Portland while Omari, a former Oregon State Beaver, was a training camp invite in 2015. There are other recognizable names on Portland’s summer league roster, from Pierre Jackson, who seemed to be on the cusp of cracking the NBA before blowing out his Achilles in a summer league game back in 2014, to Stacy Davis, who finished his career at Pepperdine as their all-time leading scorer, to Russ Davis, who won a national championship with Louisville in 2013. Assistant coaches Dale Osbourne, David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts will share head coaching duties (as is often the case at summer league).
Though many of these players, if not all of them, have been working out at the team’s facility in Tualatin, summer league practices officially run from July 6th through July 8th, with their first game scheduled for July 9th at 1 pm versus the Phoenix Suns at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. That game, along with their contests versus the Spurs on the 10th, the Jazz on the 12th and whenever and whoever they play in the summer league tournament, will be broadcast on NBA TV.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently holding his annual youth basketball camp in Beaverton, and unlike some of these events put on by other players, Lillard is there actually there working with the kids every day. If you send your child to the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp, he or she is going to meet Damian Lillard.
But even though the focus is on the kids, Lillard took a few minutes to take questions from the media about the camp, his recent trip to Asia, working with Special Olympics, the upcoming free agent signing period on his involvement with recruiting and why he declined to to play for Team USA.
Regarding the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp experience…
“When I get up there and speak, I tell them ‘Make sure you thank your parents, make sure you listen to the coaches, follow their instructions, be coachable, work hard.’ Just simple things like that, a lot of basic things that could teach them a lot more than how simple it is, things like that. Just being here and having a presence is the biggest thing. The session that you guys just watched, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed because it allows me to kind of break apart the game for the kids. For them it might be a little bit boring, but it’s 10 minutes of the day where they get to listen and see what’s going on, that it’s deeper than just a pass and a shot. Some of them are probably too young to follow it as well as the older ones, but I think it’s something that you can really teach them at a young age.”
On his relationship with Special Olympics…
“When I was 17, when I first got on campus at Weber State, it was a mandatory thing, we did a one day camp with Special Olympics. The first day I kind of just went in there, I didn’t really know much about it. But then I saw that some of them, they wanted to play against us and they could actually play. They had as much passion with the game as I did, they really enjoyed our company. I’ll never forget, it was a random day like months after the Special Olympics event and there was a kid — I’ll never forget his name — Jason Depper. I was at the mall and he walked up to me at the mall like ‘Remember I made that shot on you?’ and I was just like ‘That’s funny.’ It had that type of impact on him. I’ve been involved ever since.”
On his recent trip through Asia with adidas…
“It was fun, did some pop-ups at stores. I went to some 3-on-3 tournaments, watched a lot of kids play. They’re playing so they can all make it to Beijing and it’s like a super tournament over there right now. I did some promotion for my shoes and things like that, I went back to a store that I opened up after my rookie year in Taipei, I went back to Manila. We did a huge event there, I got to get in the three-point shootout, they let me perform a couple times over there. It was kind of on the spot performances, but I had a lot of fun.”
Why he decided not to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team…
“It was simple: the last three months of the season I played with plantar fasciitis and it really bothered me. There was days the games seemed like the only time I could play, and that was adrenaline and two hours of treatment before the game. I didn’t want to go into next season dealing with it. I actually really wanted to play and I was really close to saying ‘Just forget it, I’m going to go’ but I didn’t want to go to Rio and come back a month before training camp and my foot still be bothering me, then I can’t give what I want to give to my team. That was just more important to me.”
On free agency…
“I think there’s some guys out there that can really help take our team to the next level. I really like the guys we have, too. I’m a strong believer that if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back, we’ll be that much better. We’ll continue to get better. But my job is to make sure that I’m prepared and when I’m asked about a player that can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion. That’s my duty to our team.”
His thoughts on Portland’s free agency plan…
“I’m excited, because it’s not hard to see… Our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us, this guy could help us.’ It’s just a matter of how bad they want to be here, what we have to offer compared to what they would like. We’ll see where it goes. I have no doubt that our team is going to be ready regardless of who we bring in, who we don’t bring in. We’ll come back ready.”
Whether he’s going to help recruit free agents in person…
“Maybe. Maaaaaaybe… I might. To help our team, of course.”
Regarding what he’d tell free agents who might have “red flags” about joining Portland’s locker room…
“When I speak to these guys, I’m going to tell them what it is with our team on how we do things, what will be tolerated and what won’t. If we happen to get someone that has red flags, we don’t know for sure if that’s ‘he said, she said’ or if it’s real or if it’s the situation or people around him or what. But if it comes to our culture and our individual, it will be addressed. Nobody going to back down to nobody, let somebody come in here and think something is going to change, because it’s not. That’s not just me. I’m going to be the first one to say something because that’s just what it is. I know CJ (McCollum) is going to back that up and each guy down the line is going to back that up. We show up every day to practice to work, we show up on time, we hold each other accountable, we allow our teammates to hold us accountable and that’s the bottom line. We don’t do cute stuff, we show up and do what we’ve got to do and that’s it. If you don’t want to do it, it’s not going to work.”