Wildcats Head Coach Randy Rahe Details Story Of Damian Lillard’s Recruitment To Weber State
OGDEN, Utah – Weber State men’s basketball head coach Randy Rahe detailed the story of how he recruited NBA star Damian Lillard to the Wildcats during an episode of Hallowed Grounds with KSLSports.com’s Tom Hackett.
Rahe broke down how the now five-time NBA All-Star decided to leave Oakland and attend Weber State University in 2008.
“His AAU coach is a good friend of mine,” Rahe began the story. “He called me in January of Damian’s junior (high school) year and he just said, ‘I’ve got a guy. He’s not really being recruited. He’s good. Do you guys need a guard for that next coming year?’ and I said, ‘We do.'”
The next for the Wildcats head coach was to get into contact with the Oakland High School product.
“He said, ‘Well let’s get you on the phone with him. Start to develop a relationship with him. In spring when he starts to go out to AAU tournaments is when you guys have to go out and see him right away.’ So we did,” Rahe continued. “Damian was terrible on the phone. He didn’t want to talk… He’s just quiet. He didn’t like all that stuff. So I talk to him a few times and it was ok but he didn’t like to talk much.”
Watching Damian Lillard Play
After starting the relationship over the phone, the next step in Rahe’s recruitment of Lillard was to go and watch the California guard on the hardwood.
“We went to watch him play the first game and I’m was like ‘Wow. Come on now. We can’t get this guy. I mean he’s too good,'” Rahe recalled about seeing Lillard on the court for the first time.
Despite some doubt entering the mind of the Weber State coach, he continued his efforts in landing the under-recruited talent.
“We just kept recruiting him and talking to him,” continued Rahe. “He gets to the summer and he started to play really, really well. We’re there watching him play and you’ve got some Mountain West schools and some lower Pac-12 schools and all these people are coming in.”
Three Important Things
Luckily for Coach Rahe, the early relationship with Lillard gave the Wildcats an edge over those schools with interest late.
“We had a good relationship. We developed a good relationship and Damian was a different guy,” said Coach Rahe. “He didn’t care about the level that he was going to.”
The Wildcats head coach highlighted three things that Lillard cared about most when picking a college to play at. Those three things were:
- “He wanted to make an impact as a freshman wherever he went.”
- “He wanted to trust the people that he was gonna be with. That was huge to him.”
- “He wanted to win.”
Summer came and went.
Coach Rahe needed to finalize his next class of signees for the Wildcats and didn’t know where Lillard sat regarding Weber State.
“We’re recruiting him all fall and he wouldn’t make a move,” said Rahe. “He wouldn’t go visit anywhere. Which was good, but then it was getting late. I think it was October before he even came out to our (school) but I had to get some other guys if I wasn’t going to get Damian, I had to get some other guys. So anyway, finally I called him up… and I said ‘Dame, here’s the deal. You’ve got to come out and visit us or else I’ve got to take another guy.’
Lillard responded that he and his mother would visit Weber State that week. True to his word, the came out to visit Coach Rahe in Ogden that weekend.
“We went to the Dee Events Center and the first thing he did was run down to the floor and grab a ball and start playing,” recalled Rahe. “Working out and shooting. That’s all he wanted to do. He didn’t care about anything else.”
Coach Rahe said the visit went well and the following week he returned the favor by visiting Lillard in his home.
It All Came Down To Headbands
“We went out and did a home visit,” Rahe recollected. “Damian always wore headbands when he was playing… My assistant said ‘Well if he wants to wear a headband and you say no, and he doesn’t come, what do you think about (that)?’
Rahe responded to his assistant, “He’s not gonna care about a headband right?”
The Wildcats didn’t rock headbands under Coach Rahe. Talent like Damian Lillard’s wasn’t going to change that.
“I’m not gonna change. It’s what we do. We don’t wear headbands at Weber State… It shouldn’t even come to that,” Rahe recalled telling his assistant.
“I don’t like headbands. I didn’t like headbands at the time. I’m like old-school right?” Rahe told Hackett. “We’re all gonna look the same. We’re all gonna dress the same.”
Lillard’s home visit was packed. “Everybody” was there according to Coach Rahe. Lillard’s mom, dad, and cousins packed the house.
After the visit, Lillard and his father got up and disappeared out of Coach Rahe’s sight.
“I went to Gina (Lillard’s mother) and said ‘Thanks for having us. I guess this it’s time to go.'” recounted Rahe. “She said, ‘Can you hang on for about 10-15 minutes?’ and I said, ‘Sure. Sure.’ but I didn’t know Damian and the dad were at.”
The Wildcats head coach spotted Lillard and his father outside in the backyard. The two were having a private conversation. After the conversation. Lillard came back into the house and went to speak with the Weber State coach.
“Damian finally comes back in and he comes over to me and says ‘Coach, I’ve got to have one question answered from you… If I come to Weber State can I wear a headband? and I just put my head down,” Rahe said.
The question once posed by his assistant now seemingly stood between Coach Rahe landing the recruit he’d worked so hard to land or maintaining a policy of his program.
“He looked at me. He sold it great. He was serious,” Rahe realled. “I said, ‘You know what Dame? Our policy at Weber State: I don’t like them. No. No headbands at Weber State. That’s what we do. That’s how we’re gonna do it. Take it or leave it.’
Lillard looked down.
“I thought ‘I just lost this kid because I wouldn’t let him wear a headband,'” said Rahe.
30 seconds went by before Lillard looked up and put his arm around Coach Rahe.
“‘I don’t care about a d… headband. I’m coming to Weber State.'” Rahe recalled Lillard’s response.
“He played me. That’s the story,” concluded Lillard’s head coach of the next four seasons.
Lillard’s Basketball Career
Lillard went on to play for the Weber State Wildcats from 2008-2012. During his time in Ogden, he scored 1,934 points.
After his senior season, he was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Lillard won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award following his first professional season.
Currently, he is one of the top-scoring threats in the NBA. He’s been named an NBA All-Star five times since joining the league.
In 2017, Weber State honored Lillard by retiring his jersey.