Undrafted just a year ago, former Harvard guard Jeremy Lin became an instant legend when he burst onto the NBA scene last week. In his first five career starts, Lin has poured in 136 points, more than any other player in NBA history since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.
But his success was not always written in the stars.
Although he attended Palo Alto High School across the street from Stanford in California, the Pac-12 power never seriously considered recruiting him. Despite a stellar high school career in which he led his team to a 32-1 record his senior season, even many Ivy League universities passed on the insufficiently athletic combination guard. Brown and Harvard were the only two schools to give Lin an opportunity to play college basketball.
Yet once Lin arrived in Cambridge, his talents became apparent to many of his peers.
“I remember playing against him freshman and sophomore year, most notably sophomore year,” said NBA-hopeful Yale center Greg Mangano ’12. “I remember playing up at Harvard. He took the game over in the second half and won it for them.”
But Mangano added, “I’d be lying if I said I expected [Lin’s success].”
That game, in late February 2010, Lin dropped 26 points on the Bulldogs. And he improved over the course of his career at Harvard. While he averaged 4.8 points per game overall his freshman year and 12.6 points as a sophomore, the Crimson star averaged 21.5 points per game against Yale in his final two years. Yale head coach James Jones maintained, however, that his team did not do anything in particular to prepare for Lin.
Although undrafted out of college, Lin signed a free-agent rookie contract with the Golden State Warriors in July 2010. Subsequently cut by the Warriors and then the Houston Rockets, Lin signed with the New York Knicks in December 2011. Due to Carmelo Anthony’s injury and Amar’e Stoudemire’s absence, Lin was given a chance on Saturday, Feb. 4. In his first six games since then, “Linsanity” has taken hold: Lin averaged 26.8 points and 8.5 assists per game in the Knicks’ six consecutive wins.
To put that in perspective, Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists on his way to the MVP award last season. While Lin’s numbers are from a smaller sample, his play has captured the interest of the sporting world.
Despite his praise for Lin, Jones said he could not have predicted his explosion onto the NBA scene.
“No one saw this in Jeremy Lin,” Jones said. “He’s playing like an NBA All-Star, not just like an NBA player — an All-Star.”
Lin’s Harvard education has raised the already burgeoning profile of Ivy League basketball. In tandem with Cornell’s run to the Sweet 16 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament and Harvard’s standing in the national rankings this season, Lin’s success has legitimized Ancient Eight basketball.
“While this certainly doesn’t do away with people who look at the Ivy League like it is a second tier league, I think this proves the talent we have,” Mangano said. “The top players in our league, while they may not all be able to play in the NBA, can play professionally.”
While Jones said Lin’s assent to the top of the NBA will probably not aid Yale’s recruiting abilities, he admitted that Lin’s success “certainly doesn’t hurt.”
Although Lin was initially a novelty — no Ancient Eight baller has suited up for an NBA team since Chris Dudley ’87 retired in 2003 from the Portland Trailbrazers — his play has converted several into believers.
“I think that Jeremy Lin on a consistent basis has proved that he is legitimately a very good player,” forward Will Bartlett ’14 said. “[Lin has] almost transcended the story of an Ivy League player who can hold his own in the NBA and transformed into becoming a legitimate contributor.”