Trail Blazers

Lillard on playing in Tokyo Olympics: "It means a lot to add this to experience"

Trail Blazers

The wait is almost over to see Damian Lillard donning a Team U.S.A. jersey.

And while all of Rip City is looking forward to seeing Lillard represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Olympics, it has been a long time coming.   

The Trail Blazers' six-time All-Star has entertained the idea of playing in the Olympics over the years. 

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Lillard spoke to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press explaining why he decided to play for USA Basketball at this summer's Olympics.  

A big reason had to do with playing for U.S. coach Gregg Popovich.

 

“Pop being the coach of the national team played a big role in my decision to commit,” Lillard told Reynolds. “I have a lot of respect for Pop as a coach and as a person. I look forward to playing for him, taking in his basketball knowledge and seeing what our team can do.”

The addition of Lillard to the Team USA roster would seem to be long overdue. In 2016, the Blazers point guard withdrew his name from consideration due to injury.

Team USA must submit a 12-man roster by July 5. They will begin training camp the following day in Las Vegas.

Lillard is excited about the opportunity.

“I’m just hoping we can put together a team of great players that fit as one,” Lillard said. “I don’t necessarily want them to say, 'Oh, Dame is playing so I should play,' but I do hope they see that top players are making the commitment and look at it as an opportunity to be a part of something special.”

This season, Lillard averaged 28.8 points, 7.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds. His play while his team was injury-riddled earned him seventh in MVP voting.

Team U.S.A. is looking for its fourth consecutive gold medal this summer.

Lillard added that his wish to play for the Olympic team dates back to watching the 2008 team, otherwise known as the “Redeem Team.”

That team, which included Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, went 8-0 and won their Olympic matches by an average of 28 points on their way to winning gold in Beijing.

That was four years after a bronze medal showing at the Athens Olympics.

“I remember watching the Redeem Team and it looked so fun,” Lillard said. “So many stars on one team being able to just play together unselfishly and have fun. That team connected basketball with the best players in the world... They looked so free of their normal responsibility on their NBA teams. I became very interested in USAB because of that.”

 

It means a lot to add this to experience and represent my family and country on a major stage that I have not been on.

Damian Lillard

The group stage of the Olympics tournament is from July 25 - Aug. 1, while the knockout stage will be held from Aug. 3 - Aug. 7.