PORTLAND — Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has been added to the USA Basketball player pool ahead of this summer’s Olympics in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.
Lillard was initially left off the 30 player pool after being soured on the experience before but was added as player 31 on Wednesday.
The path back to Team USA began with an impromptu visit from Men’s National Team Director Sean Ford.
During the Blazers recent home stand, Lillard met with Ford, who carried with him a message.
“He just said they wanted me to be a part of it still,” Lillard said before Wednesday’s game against Houston. “I chose to remove myself from it and they respected that. I knew down the line I still wanted to be a part of it.”
After that face-to-face interaction, Lillard had a 15 minute conversation with USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo over the phone.
It was then he expressed his displeasure with the process and his feeling that he was just there as a glorified practice player the longer it went on.
“The first two summers that I did it, it was fun to begin with,” Lillard said. “Like I said, when you get to the point where I wasn’t getting the opportunity and I felt that way, I was a little down on it.”
The conversation smoothed over some of Lillard’s warranted feelings and reinforced the feeling Lillard had always had of wanting to be a part of USA Basketball.
“I recently received a call from Damian, and during our conversation he expressed his desire to be considered for the U.S. Olympic Team and to remain involved with the USA National Team in the future as well,” Colangelo said in the release. “Both Mike (Krzyzewski) and I feel like Damian is playing at a very high level and that he should be added to our list of Olympic finalists. Damian has been a member of the USA National Team since 2014, and he participated in National Team training camps in 2013 and 2014, so he does have equity in USA Basketball, which is always important to me.”
“Going into it I won’t have that on my mind and on my heart,” Lillard said of the bad feelings. “I’ll go into it with good intensions and I’ll go into it with the right things on my mind. Like I said I’m just happy I’ll have an opportunity going forward.”
Lillard admits that going to Rio is probably a long shot, citing the many players who’ve put in more time with the USA Basketball program.
“It would be great to be there this year,” Lillard said. “There’s a lot of guys that have spent a lot more time with Team USA than I have so we’ll see.”
Now that Team USA is back on Lillard’s docket, his summer got a little busier.
And although he, head coach Terry Stotts and several other observers feel that Lillard should be with many of his Team USA peers at the upcoming All-Star Weekend, he’s going to enjoy getting to kick his feet up for once.
“With the practices and games and endorsements and side stuff you don’t really get a break,” Lillard said. “It will be a good week for me to just kick back and just get ready for the 2nd half.”