Damian Lillard is on the verge of realizing a lifelong NBA dream.
He'll spend Thursday at the NBA draft in Newark, N.J., waiting to hear his named called by commissioner David Stern. Chances are, he won't have to wait long. Lillard is expected to be a top-10 pick and the first point guard selected.
It has been a meteoric rise for the Weber State star, who hopes to follow Gary Payton and Jason Kidd as the next great point guard from Oakland.
Overlooked in high school and early in his college career, Lillard is driven by doubters.
"I've always been the underdog and people doubted me all the time," he said. "I just want to prove them wrong."
Entering the 2011-12 season, Lillard was viewed as perhaps a second-round pick. But his stock has risen steadily after he finished second in the nation in scoring at 24.5 points per game as a junior.
Lillard, 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, is projected as high as No. 6 to the Portland Trail Blazers. It's a near consensus he'll be among the top 14 picks that make up the lottery.
"He became a top-10 pick once people started looking at him as the best point guard in the draft," said Jonathan Givony, president of DraftExpress. "With so many teams looking for lead guards in his mold, and not much separating the 10 or 11 prospects bunched in that 7-18 range, his stock rose because he plays a role that a lot of teams really look for and have a very difficult time acquiring in free agency or
Lillard worked out for the Warriors on June 17, one of several individual workouts he had with teams. The Warriors aren't considered one of the favorites to draft him but could decide he's the best available option when they select at No. 7.
His role has usually involved more scoring than distributing, which has become more common in today's crop of NBA point guards.
"I see him as a scoring point guard," Givony said. "He can create his own shot and is also a high-level shooter. I think his playmaking ability will develop in time. He shouldn't have too many issues since he's a good ballhandler, is very athletic and has a nice basketball IQ."
While Lillard prepares to take center stage, he knows what it's like to be under the radar. That has been his life up until this point.
In high school, Lillard had college offers from Saint Mary's, Colorado State, Boise State and San Diego and drew some late interest from Pac-10 schools, but there was a comfort level with Weber State, the first school that recruited him.
Lillard averaged more than 20 points per game in two years at Oakland High, including his senior year in 2007-08 when he averaged 28 points.
That came after he was a forgotten man as a sophomore at St. Joseph Notre Dame, the Alameda school that produced Kidd. Lillard mostly sat on the bench for a Pilots team that made an early exit from the North Coast Section playoffs.
"When I went to St. Joe's and didn't get a chance to play, that was one of those things when I'm like, 'Am I not good enough?' " Lillard said. "In my mind, I think I'm good enough to get minutes. So I just went back to the gym. And that was around the time when I learned to work hard and push myself and I got better."
Over the last few months, he has been back in Oakland, undergoing grueling workouts at Merritt College.
Though many projected top picks took it easy at the NBA draft combine in Chicago three weeks ago, Lillard took to the court and drew rave reviews.
"He's going to be really good," one NBA scout said. "He has speed and quickness. He can shoot with range. And he plays with an edge."
The edge comes with the territory. It's hard to grow up in East Oakland without one, and Lillard learned to be tough but smart at the same time.
"I'm not a follower," he said. "It's easy to go the wrong route. There's a lot of people I know that did go the wrong route. There's some guys who probably could've been in this position here, but they chose to follow other people's footsteps.
"I know right from wrong. If I don't feel comfortable with something, if I don't feel something is right, I won't do it. I'll always be able to live with whatever decision I made, and that got me here."
He credits his family, including parents Houston and Gina, for that mindset.
"Just having the type of support system I have and all those people behind me who really love me and really care about me and have my best interests, I think that's one of the main reasons I am who I am," he said.
"He would rather be in the gym than at a party or with his friends," Oakland High coach Orlando Watkins said. "He just wants to always get better. People that want to foster that are in his circle. People that don't want to foster that, aren't around."
Lillard has a chance to bring back a sense of pride to Oakland basketball, which has slipped a step from the days when it consistently produced NBA players.
"It's really big for the whole city, because we haven't had too many guys come out in recent years getting a shot at the league," said Dwight Nathaniel, who coached McClymonds High to an undefeated season and a state title in 2008. "Dame's earned it. He's put in his work, and he's humble."
Staff writer Marcus Thompson II contributed to this report.