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Damian Lillard made a return to the place where he created so many highlights — the Dee Events Center — but this time it was as a fan.
Lillard, who was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, was in Utah on Wednesday to watch Weber State University’s basketball team play the annual Purple and White Game before the Trail Blazers took on the Utah Jazz in a preseason game on Thursday night.
On Wednesday night, Lillard said it was a different feeling, walking into the Dee Events Center knowing he wasn’t going to be playing.
“It was kind of weird; it’s the first time I’ve come back, and I’m not going to be a part of the game,” Lillard said. “Even driving through the city, looking at where I used to live and everywhere I used to go, it was kind of different.”
Lillard also said being in the NBA is just as amazing as he always thought it would be.
“It’s everything I thought it would be and more,” he said. “My first game was against Steve Nash, and he walked up and actually knew who I was. They said, ‘What’s up, Dame?’”
Lillard said it’s a little surreal to play against men he grew up watching on television.
“It was crazy just to be on the floor with those guys, and they knew who I was,” Lillard said. “They knew my tendencies. Just to know that those people you’ve been watching for so long know who you are is great.”
When he was drafted, Lillard said he thought everything would be more congested on the court during NBA games, but now he said he’s found there’s actually more room during games, as NBA courts are bigger than the ones he was used to playing on in the NCAA.
“I just think it’s kind of easier to find my spots on the floor,” Lillard said. “In college, you’re playing on such a small floor.”
While the NBA season hasn’t officially started, Lillard’s name has been thrown around in discussions of who could be the Rookie of the Year.
“It’s definitely a lot to live up to,” Lillard said. “I just try to stay focused on doing what I’ve been doing, playing hard and trying to help the team win games.”
Lillard said he is lucky because he gets to do what he loves for a living.
“The best thing is that (playing in the NBA) being my job,” Lillard said. “I did my job here. Now I’m an NBA player. I don’t have to worry about doing homework, having job interviews, or doing other types of work. I’m doing what I love to do.”
While a lot has changed for Lillard, he said he still keeps in contact with his teammates and they still talk like nothing has changed.
“I wanted to come back and see how the team is looking,” Lillard said. “I’m happy it worked out like this.”