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Autograph seekers patiently wait--smiles and looks of surprise on their faces, items in hand--for the chance to get the signature of Damian Lillard, Portland's point guard. He's 22 years old and plays beautiful basketball during the minutes he's in the game, I'd say about 90-95% of the time. Sure, every once in a while he executes an errant pass or misses a shot or a free throw, plays we've already seen him make repeatedly in this, his rookie season.
What I like about him is the fact that a missed shot or a turnover doesn't make him put his head down, doesn't make his shoulders slump, doesn't make him look sullenly at the refs. Not at all. He plays on. If you ask me, the young man's possible-rookie-of-the-year basketball sense is outshone by his drive, determination and desire. If I had given birth to any of these youngsters at the railing, I would be just fine with my child's seeking an autograph from Damian Lillard. I feel that strongly about the young man's integrity on the court which I believe is informed by his integrity in life.
About Damian's basketball playing, at home games I witness some of the quickest, smoothest shots that I've ever seen, from all around the court--shots that make me think of the quickness and surety of a hot knife in a cold-right-out-of-the-refrigerator stick of butter. I sit up high enough in the Rose Garden Arena and watch him see the court, where his teammates are headed, where the opposition is headed, what he knows to do so that he can make things happen for his teammates and himself. I'm left dazed by his quickness and surety.
Damian Lillard has been named Rookie of the Month for the Western Conference for October/November, December and January. In January's 16 games, he averaged 17.7 points, 6.8 assists, and 39.6 minutes. Here's a recent quote in The Oregonian, from Lillard about the January award: “I played a good month of basketball, and I’ve got to give credit to our team because if we weren’t winning games, I don’t think I would be able to be singled out as a rookie.”
He will play in the NBA game between rookies and second-year players All Star weekend in Houston, Texas. The game is February 15, on TNT at 9 p.m. E.T. Way cool.
At an event for season ticket holders back in October, one of the activities was a meet-and-greet sort of thing with our three rookies--Damian, Meyers Leonard, and Will Barton. I sat listening to those three young men take questions like how did you feel when you were drafted, who do you want to play against the most, the sort of questions I figured that they had already been asked plenty of times. They answered with sincerity, like it was the first time they'd been asked that particular question. Then I raised my arm quickly enough to catch the attention of the moderator Adam Bjaranson and asked the three to tell us how they intended, as new Trail Blazers, to follow in the well-established footsteps of their teammates in their involvement in the city, outside the basketball court. While I cannot remember each individual answer, each young man conveyed the plans he had to be involved in more that basketball in Portland. What I do remember is the fact that my question caused no hemming and hawing, no uncertainty, no lost looks around the room. What I'm trying to convey is the poise of those three young men (Meyers is 20, Will is 22). After having taught high school English and having been a high school librarian for 15 years, let me tell you, I felt pretty good about these guys, their families and their teachers. At that point I had not seen them on the court, but I felt just as good about their basketball possibilities, too.