Weber State guard Damian Lillard is looking forward to a bounce-back season after a foot injury cut short his junior campaign. He had been averaging 19.7 points before going down and putting up similar numbers from the previous season when he was named the Big Sky MVP. It was an untimely injury that not only damaged Weber State's NCAA tournament chances, but also ended his year just as his pro potential was becoming more evident.
Lillard kept at his rehab, stayed positive and also worked with local youths who look up to him. According to the Standard-Examiner, Lillard even spent part of his 21st birthday on Friday at the Boys & Girls Club telling kids, "Even if I don't make it to the NBA, I will still have an education."
Following his speech, the former Big Sky MVP took to the court, showed off a few moves, played basketball with the children and signed autographs.
The surprise, however, wasn't just for the kids.
Friday was Lillard's 21st birthday, and the Boys & Girls Club helped him celebrate, surprising him with cupcakes and serenading him a happy birthday.
"I think it is such a selfless thing to do," said Rachal Edstrom, a WSU student who coordinated the event. "I'm sure he had better things to do on his special day, but he still took the time to talk and hang out with the kids. He provides a good example of how to overcome life's challenges."
Overcoming the foot injury was an experience Lillard chronicled in a series of YouTube videos released by the Big Sky for those curious how he would respond. At last check, Lillard was keeping his spirits high and dunking again. It remains to be seen how he rebounds from foot surgery after being awarded a medical redshirt to get back his junior season.
The time away has also allowed Lillard to show off just how much he has embraced mid-major stardom. When I interviewed him last year in his native Oakland on the eve of his 20th birthday, he spoke with wonder about how much the Weber State community had embraced him
"One time I was at Walmart, and the person ringing me up was like -- Damian Lillard," he said, thanking the cashier for the compliment. "I run into people when I'm out eating, grocery shopping, at a movie. It's just kind of funny to me -- that's Damian Lillard.
"They treat me like I'm a big deal."
Reigning Big Sky MVP or not, Lillard still is not going to act like he's a big deal, preferring to get his work done in the gym or maybe just making some time for kids who want to be like him.
Quite a 21st birthday indeed.