Newly crowned 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard is a hero for all professional bound athletes that do not attend major universities. By winning the award, he has become a shining beacon for the over-looked, under-appreciated, silent majority. There was speculation when he was drafted, and even throughout the season, that Lillard may be unable to compete at the professional level. This is the stigma that small school athletes battle every day, but Damian turned that doubt into fuel, and that fuel into fire.
Lillard is just the 10th NBA player in the last 20 years to come from the Big Sky Conference, and one of two currently active in the NBA (the other being Rodney Stuckey of the Detroit Pistons). With those numbers, it’s not surprising that he is the only one to have been named NBA Rookie of the Year, but when you come from what most consider to be NowheresVille, USA, receiving 121/121 first place votes should turn more than a few heads.
Now, there is unlikely to be a paradigm shift, where ACC and SEC players go without recognition, but perhaps NBA scouts will not be so quick to turn a blind eye to small school talent. From this day forward, Damian Lillard will be cast as the exception that broke the rule; the biggest fish in an ocean of talent, after jumping the fishbowl. Next time a small fry is up for grabs, teams will have to think twice about what they could be passing up.
Lillard’s success has already impacted this year’s NBA draft. With just the standard 60 spots available, 77 athletes have declared their intent. Players from St. Joseph’s, Bethune-Cookman, Providence College, Rider, North Texas, L.A. City Prep, Delaware State, and Fresno Pacific have all thrown their hats into the ring, hoping to capitalize on the new possibilities opened up by Damian Lillard. We’ll have to wait and see who bites.
As a Trail Blazer, Lillard is no stranger to representing the underdog. His work ethic and background are sure to make him an idol to many as the years go by. Who knows? Maybe by the time Dame is a wily veteran there will be another young star re-living his dream. Lillard has proven that humble beginnings do not have to mean modest return. His success has already begun to inspire a generation.