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The Blazers' star guard detailed his ab injury and the journey back, as well as what's going on at his annual camp.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard makes a pass against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 17, 2021 at the Moda Center.

Damian Lillard was asked what advice on life he'd give to all the youngsters at his basketball camp Wednesday, July 20, at the Beaverton Hoop YMCA.

Lillard's response was that the campers should always be listening. Taking in what those around them, whether they be older or younger, have to say -- and learn from it.

After a three-year hiatus from even putting on this camp, Lillard has had plenty of time to take his own advice, including last year with his abdominal injury that required surgery and sidelined him the second half of the season.

Lillard said he'd been dealing with the injury for nearly 4.5 years and described how some nights he'd go home with a bulge in his midsection the size of a baseball and have to wait for the swelling to go down the next morning.

Rather than pausing to address the issue, Lillard fought through the pain despite those around him, like his trainer Phil Beckner, telling him something wasn't right.

"Phil came to Portland and we were working out and during the workout he was like, 'You're not right,'" Lillard said. "I wanted to show people I could do it anyway. I could struggle for however many games and then for 40 games, I could show you I can do it anyway."

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"Phil was like, 'Dame, just listen to me. You need to stop, you're not right, your body is not right. I know sometimes you're able to do this but you're not right.' So after the game against the Lakers, I said it to myself, 'I'm not right.' … I just wasn't hearing him, I was like, 'I'm going to show him, too.'

"Now that I'm here, I'm looking back at that same situation and I should have just heard him out."

While the injury helped spur a tanking season the rest of the way for Portland, Lillard looks back and is grateful, in a way, the injury happened.

Being able to take the time to get physically right was important, but Lillard said a couple weeks back in Las Vegas after signing his contract extension that he was able to mentally recharge as well by spending more time with family and friends.

And part of that mental recharge is getting back to hosting the yearly camp as well.

"I love to see that part of it, the kids who start young and grow up," Lillard said. "The energy and innocence of kids, too … Seeing how excited they get when I come in, it feels good for me too. Showing them things, being able to help them actually learn things about basketball, but the fun part, too. Throw some boxing in there, teach them about self-defense, or not being a bully but properly defending yourself, and dancing, and being comfortable doing stuff in front of crowds, winning prizes, competition stuff. I just love that part of it."

Lillard described how his camp has grown over the years, going from something he felt like he should do since making the NBA into something that is more meaningful and leaves campers with some knowledge of the game.

The star guard is entering his 11th season with Portland, and he's seen the game grow around the city during his time in the Pacific Northwest.

"You're seeing more guys from this area start to go to … major schools, a couple of them are in the NBA," Lillard said. "I'm seeing more because one of my best friends is training a lot of these kids and I'm watching them workout with the high school coaches."

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"When they come to camp, at first it was like ages 6-8, everybody was the same. But after that you start to see the older kids (separate). But now it's kids coming in here who can actually hoop."

More important than the skills on the court, though, are the lessons Lillard and his team are trying to instill into their campers.

Lillard spoke to teaching respect to all the campers as they gathered around for a quick Q&A session with the star. Getting the chance to bring that back after three years away due to COVID was important for Lillard.

"It's like a cheap daycare the kids love to be at," Lillard said. "It's a fun time for them and it's a fun time for me and the coaches, too. I can see the coaches really enjoy it. Any time you can create that type of environment and it goes away for a few years and you bring it back, everybody is going to be excited."


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