All Jeremy Lin ever wanted was to win. He wanted his team to be a winner and get the attention it deserved. On Saturday night, the senior guard certainly got that as he walked off the court at Lavietes Pavilion for the last time, as he helped lead his team to their 20th win of the season, a record for the program.
Lin came to Harvard without much fanfare, as is often the case in the Ivy League. He was lightly recruited out of Palo Alto, the home of Stanford. It was never a given that he would one day be talked about as an NBA prospect or rack up the Ivy League honors, which he has done since last year. No one figured he would be in Lavietes Pavilion handling numerous autograph and photo requests like he was after his final home game. And no one could have imagined there would be a couple of media blitzes with numerous outlets from around the world doing feature stories on him.
“I didn’t think I would score 14,000 points, either,” said the soft-spoken guard, in reference to a humorous slip-up by the public address announcer when introducing him as part of the pre-game ceremony honoring the Crimson seniors. “I’ve been blessed by God with a lot. I didn’t expect any of this, but I’m happy I got to experience it and I’m happy for this program.”
Indeed, for Jeremy Lin, it all goes back to the program. That’s where he wanted to see the success, even as he basically became a celebrity.
It didn’t happen all at once. As a freshman, Lin showed plenty of promise but was buried behind upperclassmen like Drew Housman and Jim Goffredo. He played about 18 minutes per game and averaged a steal a game, and the transition to the college game was evident with two more turnovers than assists. He had an increased role as a sophomore as the only player to start all 30 games and led the team in scoring, assists and steals, but that would prove to be a sign of things to come.
As a junior, Lin broke out. He not only took over at the point and ran the show, but he also filled the stat sheet, impacting the game more ways than your average point guard does. He was the only player nationally to rank in the top ten in his league in every statistical category and was a constant in the Ivy League weekly honor roll. His scintillating performance on a bum ankle in Harvard’s win at Boston College is still much-talked about.
As a senior, much more has happened. While Lin continued his great play, including another big game at Boston College and 30 points at Connecticut, the Crimson were winning non-league games at a record clip and his star rose even more. He was getting featured in stories everywhere, and when the Crimson headed west for a game at Santa Clara, about 15 miles from his hometown, it hit a fever pitch.
Kurt Svoboda, Harvard’s Director of Athletic Communications, said things just about got out of hand at that point. The media requests were coming in left and right, and they weren’t just for covering the Crimson’s game against the Broncos. Among them were requests to meet the team in their hotel after a practice or at the airport to get a picture of him stepping off the plane – the kind of thing normally reserved for politicians or celebrities who fly on private planes. It continued when the Crimson came back home for their Ivy League opener against Dartmouth, as the post-game interview area was crowded with media there to do stories on Lin.
Lin went through all of it quite dutifully. Always good with the media, Lin isn’t a quote machine but is far from a bad interview as he’s relatively soft-spoken, thoughtful, and comes off like a regular young man. In fact, that’s central to his character: through all of this, he’s been something of a reluctant celebrity. He was a reluctant cover boy on the team’s media guide, although that could have happened if his numbers had been cut in half since most teams put seniors on the cover of the media guide anyway. While all the attention was nice, he would rather Harvard get all the attention, not him as an individual.
As such, the most gratifying thing for Lin is to see the team set a program record for wins in a season. His numbers, impressive though they are, don’t matter so much. The same goes for the honors that have been rolling in, like being one of the finalists for the John R. Wooden Award and the Bob Cousy Award. He’s already received an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational in April. Another first team All-Ivy selection is likely ahead, and he should certainly be in the discussion for Player of the Year honors.
During league play this season, there was a stretch where points were harder to come by for him, but he continued to find teammates and rack up the assists. Those who simply saw his numbers might have wondered how he coped, but he’s quick to remind you that he was a point guard in high school and came to Harvard as one, so becoming a scorer was the adjustment, even as he greatly improved his jump shot as a junior. Getting the ball to teammates instead of scoring was nothing new to him.
That’s not the only reason teammates, coaches and everyone else close to the program raves about him. They love that he’s unselfish, but they also love that he cares about the team and is universally respected as a nice young man. They see from his actions that everything comes back to the program, not him. Even as his star has been on the rise, it’s all about the program. And even though he’s the program’s most visible player, you know he’s being genuine when he looks elsewhere for its current success.
“It’s crazy when you think about having the most wins out of any team in Harvard history,” Lin said. “There are so many people who put hard work into it, and I don’t think the coaching staff gets enough credit.”
All Jeremy Lin wanted to do was win. He’s been able to do that, and it was only fitting that he walked off his home court a winner one last time – and a record-setting win at that.