Three years ago, Damian Lillard made a promise to his mother, Gina Johnson, that he would get his college degree, and he fulfilled his promise on Friday morning.
Lillard and Portland Trail Blazers, who earned the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference by winning the Northwest Division title, were eliminated from the NBA playoffs by the No. 5 seeded Memphis Grizzlies on April 29. The Grizzlies won the series 4-1.
ESPN reports that while Johnson was rooting for Lillard and Portland to advance to the second round, she had other things on her mind.
“I was more focused on him getting here to this graduation. I can’t really explain how proud I am of him…. Because it was very important. It wasn’t just important, it was very important. It was what he was here for.”
“I told Coach (Randy) Rahe, ‘I really don’t care about basketball. I want him to have a degree.'”
Lillard graduated from Weber State with a degree in Professional Sales yesterday morning. Lillard left the Ogden, Utah University following his junior season to enter the NBA draft where the Trail Blazers made him the No. 6 overall selection in 2012.
Johnson and nine other family members were on hand at the Dee Events Center for the ceremony where Lillard opened and closed the ceremony. The 2012-13 Rookie of the Year started the proceedings with a speech and was the last one to walk across the stage and receive his degree.
“(College is) about the experience and lot of the things that you pick up along the way,” Lillard said. “Even if it’s not directly your education…. It can be anything. I’m grateful for what I have here. Anything you start you should want to finish. Especially your education.”
Lillard had three classes to finish and completed the course work this winter. Marissa Payne of the Washington Post reported that Lillard earned the credits via Weber State extension programs. Only about 20 percent of the players currently in the NBA have graduated from college, according to Payne.
— Weber State Wildcats (@weberstate) May 1, 2015
With his degree in tow, Lillard can now focus on his basketball future, coming off his second straight All-Star campaign. The 24-year old guard had a career season last year, averaging 21.0 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds last season. He also shot 43.4 percent (career-high) from the field and 34.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Shams Charania of RealGM reported that Lillard is seeking a five-year maximum designated player contract extension. Despite not being able to become a free agenet until the end of the 2017 season, Lillard and the Blazers are expected to start working on getting a contract hammered out as early as this summer.
(photo by Alex Goodlett/ Getty Images)