NBA sensation Jeremy Lin sparked Harvard hoops

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.”

Reddicks does.

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.”