Lillard Looks To 'Add Something Else To My Legacy' As A Part Of Team USA's Tokyo 2021 Roster
“Dame Time” is finally going international.
After coming close on multiple occasions, only to just miss the cut, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was officially named Monday morning as one of the 12 players selected to play for USA Basketball at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“It’s something I haven’t done, so being able to add something else to my legacy as a professional athlete, it’s pretty cool,” said Lillard. “And also to be able to get on a team and play with the best players in the league is going to be cool as well. A new experience, I’m looking forward to it. In the past I’ve participated but never got to go and do the fun part.”
Lillard will be joined by Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Devin Booker, Bam Adebayo, Jrue Holiday, Zach LaVine, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Love and Jerami Grant on Team USA, with training for the upcoming Olympics, which were postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to start on July 6 in Las Vegas. And according to reports, Lillard, one of the first players to agree to compete for the United States at the 2021 Olympics, also played a key role in getting other players to commit to the roster as well.
“It’s interesting, sometimes we’re not aware of who is calling who,” said Jerry Colangelo, the Managing Direction of the Men’s National Team. “I do remember over the years, I’ve had commitment from a few players, they started talking amongst themselves. That always happens. So I’m very happy that (Lillard) chose to do that, from what I’ve been told. So it takes a team effort and in this case, it takes players to participate as well as coaches and management.”
In previous cycles, USA Basketball brings in roughly 25 players to participate in a mini-camp in Las Vegas, after which the Olympic team is selected based off those workouts. But with a compressed schedule and the fact that the NBA Playoffs won’t be over until right before the start of the 2021 Games, they opted to just name a team comprised of players willing to commit, with Lillard being one of the first.
The Stars Have Aligned
Sights set on a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal at #Tokyo2020
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) June 28, 2021
"I think I’ve paid my dues, in a way, as far as being a part of USAB early in my career," said Lillard. "Being a part of it, being familiar with some of the people and I’ve shown improvement over the course of my career. So now, I’m kind of stepping into a different position, going to have more of an opportunity."
While Lillard has been involved with Team USA since 2013, the 2021 Olympics will be the first time he’s made the Men’s National Team for an international competition. He was one of the last cuts from the team that won gold at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. He was also a finalist two years later for the team that competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio Di Janeiro. After missing out on those teams, some wondered if perhaps Lillard’s chance at making a National Team roster had passed, though obviously that was not the case.
“Damian came very close to being with us a few years ago and I think he was disappointed that it didn’t happen,” said Colangelo. “And there’s always some disappointed people but he handled it gracefully, in a very professional way. I was always hopeful that we would have an opportunity to reengage and of course this is the time we’re reengaging.”
And not only will Lillard be on the team this time around, he’s likely to play a significant role once competition starts. While he doesn’t have much international experience outside of playing in a few friendlies in the United States, Lillard is arguably the best guard on the 2021 roster and seems likely to get one of the two starting spots in the backcourt.
“When I’ve been in touch with (Team USA) I’ve been under the impression that my role is going to be pretty significant with this roster,” said Lillard. “Whether they told me that or not, I was excited to be playing with this much talent, being in a different role than my role (in Portland). Being able to just kind of play defense and move around and shoot open shots and just have fun because you out there with the best of the best. I was always looking forward to that more than anything else, but the fact I know I’m going to have a really solid role with this team makes it even more exciting for me.”
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) June 28, 2021
His ability to shoot accurately from anywhere on this side of the halfcourt line is always a useful skill, but is even more so in international play where zones and defenses packing the paint are more common.
“He’s another one that’s just had an incredible career,” said Colangelo of Lillard. “When I say he’s a big-time scorer, that’s an understatement. I’d love to have him on our team at any time and so I’m very, very pleased that he will be a big part of our efforts.”
And with the Trail Blazers bowing out of the 2021 Playoffs much sooner than Lillard nor the team would have likely, he’ll be healthy and well-rested by time the preliminary round in Tokyo begins in the last week of July.
Lillard will now have a few weeks before the start of the USA Men’s National Team training camp starts on July 6 on the campus of UNLV in Las Vegas. Team USA will host friendlies at Mandalay Bay versus Nigeria, Australia, Argentina and Spain from July 10 to July 18 before heading to Tokyo for Opening Ceremonies and their first Olympic preliminary game versus France on July 25 as they begin their quest for another gold medal. And while the chance to add some hardware to his trophy case is surely a motivation for Lillard, he’s looking forward to the journey just as much, if not more, than the end goal.
“I think the thing I’m looking forward to the most is playing with so much talent,” said Lillard. “The only time an NBA player gets to play with nothing but the best is with USA Basketball at the Olympics. Being able to play in meaningful games with the best players in the world, it just seems like it should be a lot of fun. Being able to step outside of my role from my NBA team is going to be fun as well.”