Damian Lillard, NBA stars flock to improvement coach Phil Beckner


It was Weber State in 2008 where an important relationship formed that helped shape the direction of his career.

Beckner, 25, was in his second year as a “volunteer” director of basketball operations.

Volunteer translates to Weber State not having the funds to support the position, so Beckner worked for free from 8 am to 5 pm during his first two years.

To make money, he would work the night shift at Costco. He could be found in the walk-in deep freezer stocking chicken nuggets from 5:30 pm to 11:30 pm in his oversized Weber State hoodie and gloves.

“I just really wanted to get into college basketball,” Beckner said. “And it’s crazy because then, my second year at Weber, this newly recruited 17-year-old kid walks into the gym.”

That kid was Lillard.

At the time, Lillard was a two-star recruit who wasn’t ranked nationally.

“I just wasn’t good enough in his eyes,” Lillard said. “He asked me if I wanted to work out with him, and that’s where it all started. I was the lab rat.”

Lillard used to stay on campus during the summers and woke up at 6 am every day to train with Beckner.

“He held me to a higher standard,” Lillard said. “I was never late to class or a workout, and it got to the point where I was on time to everything.”

One morning Lillard was struggling.

Although Beckner believes in tough love and holds everyone to a higher standard, his behavior is tailored to each player. (Photo by Ruby Arora/Cronkite News)

Shoot- missed. Shoot- missed. Shoot- missed.

Lillard’s shots kept falling short and hitting the front of the rim.

“How many times are you going to miss!” Beckner yelled. “You keep having the same result over and over! Get the ball over the rim!”

Shoot- missed.

This time Beckner caught Lillard’s rebound and torpedoed a one-handed bullet pass at Lillard in frustration.

Lillard caught the ball and threw it back at him.

Beckner wasn’t expecting the return and turned to the side where the ball contacted his leg. Before Beckner could react, Lillard was already walking out of the gym, which led to a heated debate in the locker room.

Lillard didn’t finish the workout and went home.

“I pride myself on rising above situations, and I didn’t that time,” Lillard said. “I shouldn’t have walked out on the workout and shouldn’t have let the situation get the best of me.”

Just as Lillard was about to text Beckner to apologize, Beckner texted him: “Dame, like no matter how much I’m getting on you or what happened, you have to be able to respond … ”

Beckner ended the text exchange by taking accountability for his actions, apologizing and correcting Lillard on what he expected of him.

“That’s when I knew,” Lillard said, “He’s not doing anything then or now for gain. There was nothing for him there.

“I was at Weber State, and nobody knew who I was, but he was all about me and getting me the message: to know that he just wants the best for me and wants me to make it no matter what.”

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