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When Damian Lillard tickles the twine next fall, it won’t be for Weber State University.
He’ll be playing for whatever team selects him in the first round of the upcoming NBA draft.
Don’t expect Lillard — whose rising on every mock draft you can find on the Web, even as high as the lottery — to forgo an opportunity to compete against the greatest basketball players in the world for a multimillion-dollar paycheck.
With this in mind, Lillard’s last chances to define his legacy will come in the next 30 days. This season, he’s secured his place in history as a great player. Now he’s entering the phase of his collegiate career where the success of his team will determine whether he remains a great player or becomes legendary.
Lillard, a junior, has already compiled a list of accolades heading into March. He’s the leading scorer in the nation and he’s doing it with impressive efficiency, shooting 45 percent from the arc, 89 percent from the stripe and 47.5 percent from the field. He’s also averaging an impressive 5.1 rebounds , 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals a game. Clearly, his leadership and talents are the driving force behind WSU’s 23-4 record.
How can he do it? He can start by defeating the University of Montana on the road next Tuesday. Defeating UM, 21-6, is an essential step. If WSU wins, it’ll bring the tournament to the Dee Events Center, where Lillard could burn his place in the minds of fans by leading his team to a conference championship and NCAA tournament birth. Winning the conference tournament will dispel the reputation WSU’s earned in the last few seasons for choking in big games. It will also send the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the first time in several years.
It’s there where the real magic could happen. It’s in the tournament where Lillard could recreate the magic Harold “The Show” Arceneaux and longtime NBA player Eddie Gill inspired when they played the role of Cinderella and defeated the heavy favorite and No. 2-seeded University of North Carolina.
If WSU wins in the round of 64 again, Lillard’s name will be known across the country. “Damianation” will could even overshadow “Linsanity” that night. It will be a tall order. If the team makes it to the tournament, WSU is likely to be seated low and play one of the nation’s top teams. Although WSU’s postplay and supporting cast is very good in the Big Sky, it will probably be difficult for the team to keep up with the athleticism, speed and size it’s likely to face in the tournament. Even so, many basketball pundits are calling Lillard the best point guard in the country, or at least the top-rated point guard for the upcoming draft. With that kind of praise, we shouldn’t be surprised if Lillard elevates his team and gets a victory the first night of the NCAA tournament.
That alone should be enough to get launch him to the status of Arceneaux, who’s still a favorite son of WSU basketball more than a decade after his NCAA tournament run. That alone will help him enter the elusive realm of the legends.
Any more wins in the NCAA tournament will just be icing.