The Retrospective Jeremy Lin Story — A Harvard HeroPosted by EJacoby on February 13th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin is the talk of the entire sports world for his rise from the end of the bench to the leader of the New York Knicks, in a story that all fans have surely become familiar with by now. Lin is just the fourth Asian-American, and fourth player from Harvard, to ever play in the league, and he bounced around three different teams last offseason before even cracking the bottom of the New York roster. Now in the past week, he’s become the first player in history to record at least 20 points and seven assists in his first four NBA starts, all Knick victories. How did the ‘Linsanity’ phenomenon come out of nowhere? Based on his college career in the Ivy League, we’ll detail that he may not have been such a long shot after all.
Lin has certainly taken the road less traveled on his journey to the NBA, beginning with the fact that he didn’t receive a single athletic scholarship offer for college. At Palo Alto High School, the guard was part of a California state title team that played its games across the street from Stanford’s campus, yet he was only offered a spot to walk on for Trent Johnson’s Cardinal program. Instead, a choice to attend Harvard gave Lin an opportunity to pursue basketball with a great chance for playing time while also enjoying the benefits of an elite academic institution. Lin played just 18 minutes and averaged 4.1 points per game as a freshman, but like many mid-major players he became a major factor once he put on some weight to match his body with his feel for the game. His sophomore year saw Lin average 12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, and from there he became a recognized name (at least among mid-major watchers) on the national hoops radar.
Although he never was named Ivy League Player of the Year nor played in the NCAA Tournament, Lin put himself on the map as a junior with impressive numbers (17.8 points, 4.3 assists, 2.4 steals per game were all top three in the conference). “He started getting confidence his junior year,” said current Portland head coach and former Stanford assistant Eric Reveno. “We believed he was better than he thought he was. He didn’t know how good he was.” By Ivy League play of his senior year, Lin was being identified as a potential NBA prospect. He finished in the top four of the conference in scoring, assists, steals, and blocks per game as the point guard for a 21-8 team that season. A signature moment came in a contest at Connecticut, against a then-reigning Final Four team, in which he scored 30 points in a just a six-point loss. He also led the team with nine rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks in a ‘wow’ moment for the senior, and three days later he led Harvard to a road win at Boston College by out-dueling future NBA first-round point guard Reggie Jackson, scoring 25 points in the victory.
“I’ve seen a lot of teams come through here, and he could play for any of them,” said UConn coaching legend Jim Calhoun that week in 2009. “He’s got great, great composure on the court. He knows how to play.” Also during that week, NBA scouting services began to update their Jeremy Lin profiles. DraftExpress gave serious consideration to his NBA prospects, and their spot-on analysis of his game is worth revisiting. But even that scouting report came with doubts about his athleticism and ‘physical tools,’ something that Lin has had to battle throughout his entire career. Sure enough, his strengths would end up greatly outweighing his so-called weaknesses, leading Lin to become the player he is today.
That week of December 6, 2009, during Lin’s senior year was the moment that an NBA dream become a real possibility, but it had started years ago in winning a state championship and being overlooked by his hometown school. A humble guy, Lin has never admitted to having a chip on his shoulder or something to prove by being passed over. But it was not clear that his success wasn’t just a ’15 minutes of fame’ ordeal once Lin made an NBA roster for the Golden State Warriors last season. It wasn’t until he was given extended playing time for the Knicks in Mike D’Antoni’s offense that the play-making guard really got his chance to shine. With that opportunity, a star has been born. In his first crack at significant minutes for the Knicks, Lin has guided the team to five straight wins in dominant fashion. His 89 points in his first three starts is the most by any player since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976. And while ‘Linsanity’ might never be as wild a phenomenon as it is right now, Jeremy Lin the 23-year-old is just beginning what looks to be a promising long-term career in the league. Those who have had their eye on him since his Ivy League days know that the player has everything it takes to continue being a productive leader in the NBA.