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Scott Howard-Cooper

A standout at the small-sized Weber State, Damian Lillard is ready to shine in the NBA.

Weber State's Lillard knows he can play with the big boys

Posted Jun 27 2012 9:06AM

NEW YORK -- Damian Lillard played at Weber State and Weber State played in the Big Sky Conference with the likes of Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Montana. He gets it. He knows what people are saying.

He especially knows it now. Draft night looms with an unfamiliar level of prominence for Lillard and his school.The first six selections at Thursday's Draft in Newark, N.J., could go Kentucky, Kansas, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky and ... Weber State.

Lillard never played in the NCAA tournament. His scholarship offers during high school in Oakland were out of the West Coast Conference, the Big West and the Big Sky, along with Washington State. Gonzaga showed some late interest, as did a few other schools, but he stuck with the Weber State commitment.

Now, instantly, he will go in the lottery, with a good chance for the top half of the lottery. With the level of competition he played against in the Big Sky -- where he rolled up 24.5 points a game, second in the nation in scoring -- people will wonder. Not NBA people -- it's easy to find backers in front offices, like the executive who said, "If you can play, you can play. Enough guys have come from bad situations or small schools. And he can play."

But Lillard knows the doubts and knows he has a lot to prove.

"It doesn't bother me because it's a valid opinion," he said. "I can see why somebody could say it. It's different levels and you have guys competing against players that are [well known]. They've been playing against them all year and I haven't. I think it just gives me something else to gain. It's something else that I can prove and get more people on my side."

Somebody could wonder because Lillard had 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting in the Dec. 16 homecoming at California and 15 points while making five of 12 attempts Dec. 7 at BYU (the Cougars reached the second round). But he also had 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting in 36 minutes against tournament-bound St. Mary's on Nov. 28, a season highlight.

"Just with like Steph Curry and Rodney Stuckey and guys like that, you look at everything," one personnel boss, a Lillard fan, said. "But of all of them, he probably played with the least amount of talent [around him]. Stuckey was close. It's one thing you look at. But his numbers were actually pretty good against some of the big schools.

"It would be different if he wasn't 6-foot-2, athletic, great body. Physically, he'll translate. With Steph, he didn't have great games against some of the bigger schools, but he was also very slight. Damian physically is an NBA player."

Curry played at Davidson, Stuckey at Eastern Washington. Both ended up as lottery picks.

"A lot of people may say I didn't play against the best players in college," Lillard said. "They'll probably knock me because of that, because I didn't go to a major school and play on TV all the time. But I think that they'll eventually see that I belong. They'll see the type of person I am and they'll warm up to me.

"If teams watched me enough, which they did, they can easily see that that [where I went to school] doesn't really matter. I can say as a freshman I had 20 at Arizona. I had 28 at Cincinnati. I had a few bad games against bigger schools this year. I don't think it was because it was against the big schools. A couple of situations was where they had more athletic posts and they just trapped me and made me get rid of the ball. Every shot that I got was going to be a tough one. They just weren't bouncing my way. All of that (doubt) is valid. I see where people can say it.

"But I think that's why we work out and go through all of this [pre-Draft] process, just so they can be sure about it. By the end of it, they won't leave with any doubt about me."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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