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Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard on His Youth Camp: It’s ‘More Than Just Basketball’

BEAVERTON — Before Wednesday’s surprise declaration that he had been recruiting Carmelo Anthony to Portland, Trail Blazers’ All-Star point guard Damian Lillard answered a host of questions about his popular youth basketball camp.

The camp, which features two sessions, hosts more than 300 kids and Lillard is in the middle of it all, offering life wisdom, jumping into drills and scrimmages and interacting with campers.

I wrote about the camp and Lillard’s goals with it two years ago. Rather than do so again, I thought I’d post a transcript of the Q&A session Lillard held today with local reporters. Here it is:

How’s the camp going?

“It’s going great. This is our second week. The first week we had a lot of kids. We got through it pretty smooth. This is the second day this week and it’s going pretty smooth. The kids, they’re working hard and they’re listening. I think that’s the hardest part about running camps is getting kids to stay in line. We’ve been able to do that.”

What do you get out of the camp?

“I feel like the position I’m in, it’s easy for people to look at me as bigger than them or far out of their reach. So this is my opportunity to have a relationship with these kids and when the parents come — just the interaction. It does something for me. A lot of these kids, they come year after year, so now, when they see me at a game, they’re not like, ‘Dame let’s take a picture. Can you sign this?’ They’re just like, ‘What’s up, Dame?’ It’s a handshake. I’d rather it be that way because I like to do normal things. I like to go skating, go to the mall, go to the movies. So I think this stuff allows me to do that because they see that we connected in some kind of way. Also, just to be hands-on with the kids that do love to play basketball. I enjoy teaching the stuff that I’ve been taught.”

Is there a message beyond basketball you try to relay to the kids?

“As soon as the kids come in, the very first day of the camp, we address what we want to get out of the camp. And that’s when I take the mic and I let them know that when I was coming up, a lot of the teachers and the people that influenced me, it wasn’t all about basketball. I tell them, ‘Be on time. When the coaches say something, listen. Be coachable. Be able to hear instructions (without having) them repeated to you. When your parents tell you to get up in the morning, get up, brush your teeth, make up your bed.’ We kind of put those same things out on all these kids and a lot of the coaches are either people that I grew up with, played against in college, or people that have that experience, where they had to be disciplined as well to get to some kind of level. So they can teach those same things and it’s coming from them and not something that they heard me say. Just that part. We tell them how important education is, how important it is to be coachable. Those same things. And then we start the basketball.”

What’s it like for this to become so popular, to see your vision come alive?

“I don’t even think it’s about how popular it is. I think it’s about that parents see the value in it. Because it’s more than just basketball. Simple stuff. Last week, we offered two kids, we said, ‘All right, if any two kids can get up here and say one verse from one of my songs, they’ll win $100.’ Fifteen kids tried to do it and three kids ended up doing it. We had one that did it better than the other two. And the other two, I made them battle against each other in front of the camp. And they had to talk about how one outplayed the other one in basketball and it’s stuff like that. It’s not about them rapping or remembering the song, it’s about them getting up in front of a crowd of people that might laugh at them … and be comfortable doing it and have enough confidence. Those are the kinds of things that I had to do growing up. My AAU coaches would make me get up there. None of my teammates might be able to rap, but they would make us rap in front of each other. And if we (traveled), they would make us do the laundry for the team. And it’s those values that make you a better person. We try to incorporate those same things.”

Does all this bring you back to when you were a kid?

“It does. It’s fun because now I can do the stuff to the kids that used to get done to me. Like, we do a Soul Train line. We play music, all the kids get into two lines and you’ve got to make it through that Soul Train line. It’s stuff like that that I just think it prepares them for tougher situations. When they go to high school or college and they’ve got to get up there and talk in front of the class. Or they go to their first school dance and they’re uncomfortable. They’re going to think about these times and say, ‘Well I was in front of 250 other kids.’ I enjoy kind of putting them in those positions I was in, because I remember how fun it was an also how uncomfortable it was. Now I’ve become an adult and it’s very rare I get uncomfortable in certain situations.”

Why is it important for you to be hands-on?

Because they need to see and hear from me. We’re in there working out, they need to see me working out so … when I’m telling them, ‘You need to go hard,’ they’ve seen me go hard. When I’m sharing the message with them, it’s not coming from my camp coaches all the time. Because they’re coming to Damian Lillard’s Camp. So it’s no reason why they shouldn’t be getting the message and shouldn’t be seeing activity from Damian Lillard. I’m sure their parents appreciate it as well.”

Growing up, was there ever a professional athlete who came back and did something for your neighborhood?

“We had the Warriors less than 5-10 minutes away and I remember I went to one camp and Erick Dampier came. I remember it was the end of the week, last day of camp, he came in there, he sat in a chair by the door, we sat next to him, took a picture, next person, we moved along and that was it.”

This is a two-week camp. Some guys might come and go.

“Not me. I take pride in anything that my name is attached to. This is something that my name is attached to and something I run. So I’m not doing it to make camp money or anything like that. I’m doing it because I want to have a relationship with the kids and influence them and have an impact on them. And I want to teach them the game. It’s that simple. I understand it wouldn’t make sense to y’all, but it makes perfect sense to me.”

How would you describe your relationship with the Portland community?

“I think I’ve got a great relationship with them. Part of it is because it’s not just the basketball player. I give them my time. I think you have a lot of professional athletes where they try to, I guess, finance everything. They want to (say), ‘Well, I’ll pay for a suite. And I’ll build a basketball court at the park. And I’ll do this. I’ll buy back backs and school supplies.’ But it’s different when you’re present. When you’re present, it means more to them. Because they need to see it. Even when I was growing up, I didn’t care about Joe Smith and all those dudes. When they played for the Warriors, I would hear their names and all that stuff. And they would say, ‘Go read’ and all the little stuff that they do. And I didn’t pay attention to it. I didn’t care. Because they didn’t come to me themselves and say, ‘You guys need to do this and you guys need to do that.’ I rather be here and do it for myself.”

What’s the one question you hear from kids most when you’re working with them?

“They just ask me how I do things. It’s stuff that seems simple to me. I’ll just do a move and then I’ll step back and I’ll head fake and they’ll say, ‘How did you do that?’ Every small thing they think is just so cool. For me, it’s become just repetition, it’s like what I do. I always tell them, ‘If you want to be a good shooter, you’ve got to shoot a lot. If you want to handle the ball well, you’ve got to handle the ball a lot. If you want to be in good shape, you’ve got to run and jump rope and swim and all those things.’ I’m not the most talented person, but I get the most out of what I was given because I just work hard at it. If I want to shoot the ball well, if I want to make step backs, if I want to make deep threes, if I want to have a higher percentage finishing in the paint, you just do it over and over. You do it over and over, it’s like second nature. And I tell them the same thing. What I’m doing, y’all can do it, too. It’s not impossible. You’ve just got to be willing to put the time into it.”

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