Weber State junior guard Damian Lillard, who missed most of last season with a broken bone in his foot, has come back mighty strong this season. He currently leads the nation in scoring with an average of 25.8 points per game, moving into fourth place on the school's all-time scoring list, and is among 20 finalists for the annual Bob Cousy Award, which recognizes the top point guard in college basketball. He recently sat down with Deseret News sports writer Randy Hollis.
Q: How anxious were you to get back on the court this season after getting sidelined by your injury?
A: Once I got hurt, I kind of felt bad for myself a little bit. I talked to my brother (Houston) about it, and he told me I could feel sorry for myself or I could start finding ways that I could start getting better. I had a chip on my shoulder, I still do, and I started to work and I was really looking forward to this season. I think this is the most excited I've been to play in a long time. Not that I wasn't before, but since I sat out a whole year, I was really ready to come out and win some games this season and play well and help my team.
Q: Do you feel any extra pressure, leading the nation in scoring and knowing NBA scouts are watching you play, and how do you keep it all in perspective?
A: I just try not to buy into what everybody else is saying and what's going on outside of our program. I know what allows me to be able to do what I'm doing, so I just stick to it. Scoring 26 points a game or whatever it is, I try not to focus on doing that. I just focus on what I have been doing the whole season because I know that it's been working for me and it's going to keep working for me if I just stay focused on what's best for the team and how I got to this point.
Q: How important is it to you to lead the nation in scoring?
A: It's more important to win the conference championship, obviously. But people talk about it all the time, leading the nation in scoring, but to me it's just not a big deal. I try to focus on winning. If that's what I need to do to help my team win, then I'll keep doing it. But I see it more as me contributing to my team than me individually averaging 26 points. ... I get tired of people asking me how much I care about it, because then it sounds like I don't care about it because I do, but only because that's what helps my team, and not in a selfish way. ... To lead the nation in scoring, that came with a lot of work. To help my team win games, and doing whatever I've got to do to help us win games, that's what I'll do. If that means scoring 26 points a game, then I'll do that.
Q: Do you get many comparisons to BYU superstar Jimmer Fredette and what he accomplished a year ago?
A: All the time, people say it all the time about both of us scoring the ball and we're both in the same state and do we know each other or whatever. I'm kind of glad that it hasn't blown up like that (the Jimmermania that swept the nation last year). That's probably when there would be a lot of pressure on you when all eyes are on you. I'd rather it be how it is. I'm kind of an under-the-radar kind of guy. I don't like being the center of attention. If we're going to have attention on us, I'd rather it be on our team winning games. At the end of the day, that's all that matters to me is winning games. Being compared to him is a great thing because he's an NBA player, but everything else that came with him having the year that he had, I'd rather not have all the attention and all the circus atmosphere that surrounded him.
Q: What are your thoughts about possibly leaving school early and going to the NBA after this season?
A: It's crossed my mind, obviously. Anybody in that position, it would cross their mind. But I think if I start paying too much attention to it that's when I'll lose my focus on what I'm doing here. I really haven't thought about it too much as far as whether I'm going to leave or stay here. But right now I'm here and I just want to focus on winning games. We haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since I've been here, so that's my number one goal. It'll take care of itself after the season. I just want to focus on Weber State, winning games and winning the conference championship and going to the NCAA Tournament, and then winning there, too. We don't want to just get there, we want to give ourselves a chance to win. Then after that, everything else will handle itself, but until then that's what I'm going to focus on.