Truly, I'm embarrassed. I probably shouldn't be.
fooled a lot of people.
I covered the San Francisco Bay Area when Lillard starred at Oakland (Calif.)
. That was part of my prep beat. I saw him play two or three times, but I surely didn't alert anyone that a future NBA star was on the horizon.
I certainly didn't predict he'd be a lottery pick in the NBA draft. Definitely couldn't have imagined him being the NBA's Rookie of the Year.
But that announcement came down moments ago. To cement his arrival to stardom, Lillard was a unanimous selection.
Good for him. By all accounts, I've heard nothing but superb things about his character. Even back then. Obviously he had it to get to this point, to fool me and certainly college recruiters, to work his way through the Big Sky Conference – not exactly a bastion of NBA talent – to earn the league's No. 6 draft selection.
And today, this.
I don't feel so bad because Lillard even tricked Gerry Freitas, a former college basketball service guru who now runs a scouting service and knows more about West Coast basketball talent than, well, just about anyone.
In this day and age of year-round basketball, highlight tapes and the Internet, basketball megastars rarely get missed. But it's happened before.
Freitas told me recently he asked an NBA agent about another West Coast college talent who slipped through the cracks, Steve Nash.
"I asked him how surprised he was with Nash's success and he said, 'I knew he had it in him,'" Freitas said. "I said 'C'mon. You knew when the kid was in high school or at Santa Clara that he'd win two NBA MVPs?'
"Nobody saw that coming just like nobody saw Damian Lillard as an NBA lottery pick."
Lillard, a 2008 Oakland High graduate, backed up his No. 6 selection right away. The 6-foot-3 guard torched the Lakers for 23 points and 11 assists in his NBA debut. He joined Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players in NBA history with at least 20 points and 10 assists in their first game. His 11 assists were the most in an NBA debut since Jason Kidd, another Bay Area native, dished 11 in 1994.
Of course he didn't stop there. Lillard finished with averages of 19 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. He joined Robertson and Thomas as the only rookies in history to record at least 1,500 points and 500 assists. He also broke Stephen Curry's rookie mark for 3-pointers with 185.
Only Ralph Sampson, David Robinson and Blake Griffin won the award unanimously before him.
That's some company.
Freitas said Lillard was above the prep curve in "making plays in transition and breaking down defenses" and that Weber State (in Ogden, Utah) turned out to be a good fit for a player who wasn't highly recruited and needed to develop.
He averaged 22.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a senior at Oakland
. Considering the shots he took, it was amazing he shot 60 percent from the floor and 81 percent at the line.
"It wasn't magic how he got to where he is," Freitas said. "It was a lot of hard work. He just got better and better and better."
And made guys like me look worse and worse and worse.
E-mail Mitch Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MitchMashMax.