Damian Lillard ready for a fresh start

Weber State guard Damian Lillard returned to action earlier this week from a foot injury that ended his 2010-2011 campaign. Yes, it was only an exhibition game, but for one of the nation's top mid-major stars, it was a great sign as he racked up 16 points, four assists and four steals on Monday. It was the first sign his offseason had paid off.

Lillard entered last season the Big Sky's reigning MVP, but only lasted nine games before needing foot surgery that would force a medical redshirt. After getting cleared May 1, he worked out at 100 percent a month later. Now he might be better than before.

"He’s maybe become more explosive," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "Damian’s mentioned time and time again when it’s taken away from you, you learn to appreciate more and put more into it."

Lillard changed his body, putting on five pounds of muscle, strengthening his core, and using plyometric training to increase his explosiveness, according to Rahe.

And in Lillard's absence, Weber State saw players emerge even though the Wildcats missed out on the conference title last season, with Scott Bamforth and Kyle Bullinger taking on larger roles.

"Now that [Lillard] is back, they’ve realized he makes their job easier because he get a lot of attention," Rahe said.

So it came as little surprise when Weber State was picked to win the Big Sky. Lillard, who averaged 19.9 points as a sophomore, is back. Now all the Wildcats have to do is get over the hump and get to the NCAA tournament after coming close in Lillard's first two seasons.

"It doesn't mean anything, I guess," Lillard told The Standard-Examiner of his team being picked to finish first. "Once it happens so much, you feel like you've got to live up to it. That's the only way we can call ourselves the best team in the Big Sky, by living up to it. Rankings don't mean anything. I don't think they were picked first the year Coach Rahe won the [league] tournament and went to the NCAA tournament. Being first just puts a target on our back and we've got to work even harder to make sure we go out there and prove it."