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An Unlikely Rivalry: Damian Lillard and Will Cherry

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While their pro careers have headed in different directions, at one time All-Star guard Damian Lillard and the Raptors' Will Cherry were friendly rivals.

James Snook-US PRESSWIRE

If you were to pick the Raptors' natural antagonist for Portland's star point guard Damian Lillard, you'd probably start with Kyle Lowry. And really, that's fair.

But Brian Kotloff of NBADLeague.com would likely identify someone else. In fact, he'd point to the least likely rival to Lillard's starry pro career: the end of bench Raptors guard Will Cherry. As Kotloff notes:

Lillard averaged 22.4 points during a breakout senior season at Oakland High School; Cherry's nearby McClymonds High team went 33-0 on its way to the state title. Lillard emerged as an under-the-radar star for the Weber State Wildcats; Cherry twice led the University of Montana past the Wildcats in the Big Sky conference title game.

In college, Lillard was the star, but Cherry was the winner. It seemed like the two were running neck-and-neck. Then, as always seems to be the case with these things, Cherry was struck by injury, breaking his foot during a pick-up game. He would never quite recover. It was Cherry's will to win that potentially lowered the ceiling of his pro career:

[Coach Wayne] Tinkle estimated that Cherry played at 60 percent from the time he returned in December until March, when he led the Grizzlies to their third NCAA tournament appearance in four years to the detriment of his pro prospects.

So, while Lillard, a former Rookie of the Year, flies up and down the court with the rejuvenated Trailblazers, keep the dogged Will Cherry in mind. Next time the Raptors play Portland, maybe we'll see him renew his friendly rivalry with the All-Star PG. Sometimes the game really can break the right way.