When he broke his foot back in December of 2010, Damian Lillard found a friend in Ronnie Price, then a member of the Utah Jazz.
Already showing signs of becoming a star, Lillard, then a point guard on Randy Rahe’s Weber State men’s basketball team, suffered a season-ending injury during an overtime loss at Tulsa. That’s when Price, then a Jazzman and currently teammate of Lillard’s on the Portland Trail Blazers, stepped in to help.
“He’s been kind of a mentor to me since my junior year when I broke my foot,” Lillard said Friday following Portland’s shootaround at EnergySolutions Arena.
“He just talked me through the whole rundown of (the) transition from college to the NBA. How to take care of my body better, how to work myself and not to overwork myself. We would just talk, just catch up with each other for the last two years. It’s kind of ironic that we ended up teammates.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said he became aware of Lillard’s abilities from two people: his son, Tyrell, a point guard at Salt Lake Community College, and Price, a former Utah Valley University player, who often played summer pick-up games with local college players.
Lillard, who played four seasons at Weber State, is averaging 18.1 points and 6.5 assists per game for the Trail Blazers, who selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. He is considered by many observers to be the leading candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
A seven-year veteran, Price, 29, played four seasons with the Jazz (2007-11). Currently, he is averaging 2.9 points as a Blazers’ reserve.
“It’s kind of a coincidence that we wound up on the same team,” Price said. “It’s been great, I’ve been enjoying it watching him grow as a player, watching this team get better throughout the course of the year. It’s been fun.”
Lillard and Price have a mutual friend in former University of Utah point guard Johnnie Bryant, currently on the Jazz’s coaching staff.
Bryant introduced Lillard and Price and the two became confidants.
“I always told him if he needed anybody or anything, I’d be there for him,” Price said. “I was a fan of his game when he was in college. I got a chance to watch him play a few games up there at Weber. I’ve always been a fan. To actually see him work everyday, I’m even a bigger fan.”
Lillard said he hopes to get a warm reception tonight when he’s introduced before the Jazz-Blazers game.
“I expected to, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t be surprised,” Lillard said. “I know how the crowd can be for the Jazz. But I don’t see why not.”