NBA sensation Jeremy Lin sparked Harvard hoops
BOSTON—Jeremy Lin majored in economics, enjoyed video games and didn't care much for the spotlight. He also was his college's best basketball player.
But at Harvard, a school known more for its GPAs then points per game, that only gets you so far.
"He wasn't a nerd," current captain Oliver McNally said. "He was just normal. You take out basketball and he's a very normal student at any school."
There's nothing normal about what Lin has done for the New York Knicks, though, with at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first five starts.
Back on campus, Crimson coach Tommy Amaker expects Lin's run to help him recruit new players. That, and Harvard is pretty good, too.
In fact, at 21-3 overall, the Crimson lead the Ivy League with a 7-1 record. With six games left, four at their 2,196-seat homecourt with foldout bleachers, the school that had its last NBA player 48 years ago would reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946 if it finishes atop the conference.
And now Lin has taken the NBA by storm with his surprising success.
In short, Harvard's hot, folks.
"He is so deserving of it. He is such a good kid," said McNally, Lin's teammate in the backcourt for two seasons. "There's no better representation of Harvard basketball or Harvard University to be at such a big stage."
Lin's meteoric rise and nonstop publicity can be a huge recruiting tool, even more important than Harvard's third straight 20-win season.
Lamar Reddicks helped recruit Lin, who received no athletic scholarship offers coming out of Palo Alto High in California. Harvard doesn't offer them and Reddicks, who said he knew Lin would be good, recalled him as a weak "stringbean."
The NBA? The last Harvard player to get there was Ed Smith. And he lasted just 11 games with the Knicks in 1953-54.
But by Lin's senior year, he was Harvard's strongest player. And last Friday, he scored 38 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in Madison Square Garden.
"It really does help recruiting," said Reddicks, now athletic director and basketball coach at Milton Academy, a high school just outside Boston. "Those same kids that don't think that they can reach the NBA from Harvard, that they need to go to the big-time schools, now might take another look."
Keith Wright, Harvard's other captain, has caught a close-up glimpse of the Linsanity.
"Everywhere I go it's like, `Did you play with Jeremy?' or `Have you talked to Jeremy?'" Wright said. "I'll be out at Target. They see me (with) a Harvard basketball shirt on and oh, like, `Jeremy Lin's doing awesome.'"
Amaker didn't know much about his players when he became coach in 2007-08, Lin's sophomore season. His background had been at major basketball schools -- point guard and assistant coach at Duke and head coach at Seton Hall and Michigan.
Now, he's in the Ivy League, coaching back-to-back games on weekend nights, a conference tradition.
"One of the things you learn right away about Jeremy is how much he loves basketball," Amaker said. "It's pretty cool and it's pretty neat to see how he has kind of become somewhat of a global figure and a global star, but he has many layers to him. ... being a Harvard grad, being an Asian-American kid, being an outstanding basketball player, being a person whose faith is very important to him, being an incredible person, being a great teammate.
"You can go on and on about this kid."
He remembers his first season after leaving Harvard to become an assistant at Boston University when Lin, then a sophomore, went there for a game. He chatted with Reddicks while other players were warming up.
"He comes over and he doesn't leave," Reddicks said. "Finally, I'm like, `Jeremy, go get warmed up, man, you've got a game.' And he goes, `Coach, I have 30 games this year. I only have one where I get to see you, so I'm going to spend as much time as I can with you.'
"My eyes start to water."
In the last season before Lin arrived, the Crimson were 13-14, their fourth straight losing record. Then, they went 12-16 and 8-22. But they improved to 14-14 and 21-8 in his last two seasons.
Last season, Harvard went 23-7 and tied Princeton for the Ivy League title. But its first year in which it won or shared the top spot ended with a one-point playoff loss to the Tigers.
Princeton went to the NCAA tournament. Harvard went to the NIT, where it lost in the first round.
Amaker's crew is even better this season, though, and was nationally ranked for the first time.
The coach, of course, traces that success back to Lin.
"He helped elevate our program to wherever we are now," he said. "That kid is directly responsible for this thing moving in this direction."
Harvard suffered its first league loss last Saturday at Princeton, 70-62. But it still holds the top spot over Yale (16-6, 6-2) and Penn (13-11, 5-2).
Harvard had beaten Penn 56-50 the night before losing to Princeton, and its players hoped to see the remainder of Lin's performance against the Lakers.
"We were on the bus," Wright said. "We were so upset that we couldn't stop somewhere and watch that Laker game, the end of it after the Penn game. But just seeing the highlights, it's incredible."
Incredible, improbable, unimaginable. Take your pick.
Who saw this coming?
Lin played sparingly in 29 games last season with Golden State, which signed him as an undrafted free agent and cut him Dec. 9. Houston signed him on Dec. 12, then cut him on Dec. 25. He joined the Knicks on Dec. 27, and has been the talk of the NBA the past two weeks.
"He's not afraid to take the big shot," Reddicks said of the humble Lin, "but probably getting all this attention may not be right up his alley."
Lin's last season at Harvard was the school's first with at least 20 wins. Now it has three in 101 years of basketball.
"That's what we signed up for when we came here," Wright said, "to change the history of Harvard basketball, to change the tradition, and it's just amazing and fulfilling to see that happening with us here.
"Jeremy was the leader of the team and a tremendous player, so it definitely all started with him."