Editor’s Note: Back in the April 2009 issue of Dime Magazine, we ran a two-page feature on a kid from Harvard named Jeremy Lin, who was ripping up the Ivy League and knocking off ACC schools almost single-handedly. We thought our readers would enjoy this look back at that story and the foundation of what made Lin the player he is today. — PC
Two hours before his squad was to take the floor at the San Francisco Pro-Am, Jeremy Lin entered the gym inside the historic Kezar Pavilion in downtown San Fran. It was the summer of 2007, and the 6-2 guard had just wrapped up a stellar freshman season at Harvard where he was the Crimson’s sixth man.
Lin was all set to test his skills against some of the Bay Area’s best on hallowed ground once graced by Tim Hardaway, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Steve Nash, and Gilbert Arenas. But before Lin, who is Taiwanese, began warming up, a volunteer at the event approached him to let him know “There is no volleyball tonight, it’s basketball.”
Never mind that Lin was named theSan Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News’ High School Player of the Year a season earlier. Never mind that he dropped 17 points on nationally-ranked Mater Dei High to deliver Palo Alto High to its first state championship in decades. Never mind that he was on the brink of starting at point guard for Harvard that upcoming season. That volunteer could only see one thing.
While the mix up was an honest mistake, it shines a light on an unfortunate truth: most Asian basketball players in America are not respected for their skills. In the League, Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian have definitely softened the stereotype against Asian ballplayers, but they are both seen as physical anomalies. Even if these two represent Asian basketball players, they don’t really connect with other elite Asian-American basketball players, who make up less than half a percent of D-I hoops.
Jeremy knows all about it. He’s been fighting pre-conceived notions ever since he first picked up a basketball.
“Growing up a lot of people have always told me I would never play high school or never play college,” says Lin. “You don’t see too many Asian-Americans.”
“There are things that might have happened that we might not be aware of that he’s had to deal with being an Asian basketball player,” adds Peter Diepenbrock, who was Lin’s coach at Palo Alto High. “He keeps a chip on his shoulder a little bit I think.”
This past January, Jeremy was the catalyst behind one the biggest surprises in all of college basketball. Playing cross-town ACC member Boston College – ranked 24th in the nation at the time and fresh off a victory over No. 1 ranked North Carolina – the visiting Harvard Crimson came into the Conte Forum on January 9 and pounced on the Eagles from the tip.
Matched up against All-ACC guard Tyrese Rice, Lin more than held his own. “Obviously coming in, you have so much respect for a guy like [Rice],” Lin says. “To be honest I was really nervous to play against him.” Jeremy finished with 27 points, eight assists, three boards and six steals and Harvard pulled off an 82-70 victory over BC – their first win over a ranked opponent in school history. The next morning every major daily in America was buzzing about the game Jeremy’s performance in particular.
“We’ve seen him play that way in other games,” says Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. “I think that game has kind of opened so many different eyes.”
All season long, the junior guard has been filling up the stat sheet for the Crimson. As of press time, Lin was averaging 18.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.7 steals while shooting over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Jeremy’s basketball odyssey started 3,100 miles west of Cambridge. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Jeremy grew up in the affluent suburb of Palo Alto, Calif., just a stone’s throw away from prestigious Stanford University. As a kid, Jeremy would spend hours honing his game on the courts at nearby Palo Verde Elementary School or the local Y.
Respect never came easy and Jeremy was an easy target on the courts. “Sometimes, other players would call me a ‘Chinese import’ and different names,” says Lin. “When we would line up for the jump ball, the other team’s point guard and shooting guard would argue over who would guard me, because they both wanted to.”
“Yeah people underestimated him initially, until about two minutes into the game when they realized he was faster and could shoot, drive and do everything,” says longtime friend and high school teammate Brad Lehman. “I think they were just surprised that this little skinny Asian kid was just going off on them.”
Lin entered Palo Alto High School in the fall of 2002. Almost immediately, coach Diepenbrock took notice of the 5-3 freshman. Just before the playoffs, Diepenbrock promoted Lin to varsity and never looked back. By the time Jeremy was a senior, he had shot up to 6-2 and was one of the premier guards in the Bay, averaging 15.1 points, 7.1 dimes, 6.2 boards and 5 steals. The skinny Asian kid who shot the ball from his hip as a freshman was now throwing down dunks on the regular. After leading the Vikings to the CIF Division II State title in ’06, was named Player of the Year by several local media outlets.
But despite his accomplishments, Jeremy, amazingly, did not receive one Division I scholarship offer. “I think a lot of schools overlooked me,” says Lin. “And I thought I could definitely play at some of the schools around where I grew up.”
Lin, who held down a 4.2 GPA in HS, accepted an offer to attend Harvard â€“ even though the Ivy League school doesn’t give athletic scholarships. For a player and program both having something to prove, this was the perfect fit.
While a degree from Harvard gives you instant respect in the real world, playing ball for the school doesn’t have quite the same pull.
“Actually, we don’t even have a folder in our database for Harvard players,” admits one NBA Western Conference scout when asked about Lin’s pro prospects.
And with good reason. The Crimson are in the midst of a Chicago Cubs-esque, 62-year drought from the NCAA Tournament. Try to think of the last Harvard player in the NBA. If you were about to say Chris Dudley, you were close, but that was Yale. The last Crimson player to play in the League was Ed Smith in 1953.
But with Lin on the team, that could all change soon. Tommy Amaker, who took Seton Hall to the Sweet 16 in 2000, is entering his second season as the Crimson’s head coach. He knows he has a special player in Lin.
“Jeremy is a player who can play at any level of college basketball,” says Amaker, who has coached two All-American guards (Andre Barrett and Shaheen Holloway) at Seton Hall. “The youngsters that I’ve had a chance to coach, there is no one I would rank higher than Jeremy Lin.”
Lin’s success has also impacted a demographic that spans far beyond the confines of New England. “I’ll get encouraging e-mails from other Asian-Americans and they’re rooting for me,” says Lin. “It’s obviously very touching to see that other people are following what’s going on with the Harvard basketball team. I’m religious, so I believe everything that happens is from God. So I make sure I have a good work ethic everyday and I don’t take any days off.”
Several pro prospects websites have started to take notice of Lin.
“Jeremy Lin is an interesting player,” says Aran Smith, president of the NBA prospect website, NBAdraft.net. “He certainly has solid foot speed with the ability to get by players off the dribble and an excellent jump shot. Playing in the NBA might be too optimistic but I believe he can play professionally overseas.”
It’s still too early to speculate where Lin takes things from here. Maybe an NCAA Tournament berth. Maybe professional basketball, maybe not. Who knows? But at least one thing is certain. He’s not a volleyball player.
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