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Jeremy Lin Goes Out a Winner, Like He Wanted

by - Published March 4, 2010 in Columns

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.

The Man Responsible For Harvard’s Success

by - Published January 8, 2009 in Columns

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – When a team like Harvard knocks off a team like Boston College, an inevitable question is, “How did that happen?” The first instinct for many is to look at the favorites and find something that went wrong, but that won’t work here. For the answer to that question in regards to Harvard’s first-ever win over a ranked team, there’s one person that needs to be talked about: Jeremy Lin.

Lin’s stat line in Wednesday night’s 82-70 win was in many ways typical of the ones he has posted this season. The Harvard junior guard scored 27 points on 11-16 shooting, handed out eight assists with just two turnovers and had six steals. He also had three rebounds and a blocked shot. For good measure, athletic communications director Kurt Svoboda insists he was robbed of another block.

It’s a typical stat line because entering this week, Lin is the only player in the country to rank in the top ten in his conference in just about every category – scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, blocked shots, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage.

But the numbers, while indicative of how he impacts games and certainly impacted Wednesday night’s game, don’t do him justice. It wouldn’t even be enough to say that he was the best player on the Conte Forum floor on Wednesday night.

This is a young man who was not a given to play in this game after turning his ankle in practice a few days earlier. Even before the game, though he warmed up early, it was still not a given that he would play a lot of minutes. The Crimson have their Ivy League slate right in front of them, after all, and a win wouldn’t mean a chance at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid later on, so it wouldn’t have been a surprise if they limited his minutes. They’re already a banged-up team as it is.

Lin wanted to play, though, and did he ever do it. It was a scintillating performance that long-time Boston College radio announcer Ted Sarandis called, “the best performance by a non-conference player against Boston College in a long, long time.” And instead of Lin playing limited minutes, it was his head coach, Tommy Amaker, who limited the time he spent talking to the media after the game so that everyone could talk to the star of the game instead.

Lin’s first half stats were fairly unassuming, but he helped Harvard lead by six heading into the locker room. The game was never competitive in the second half thanks largely to Lin’s efforts.

It started right away with a steal and fast break layup on the first possession after intermission. Later, a three-pointer, a steal and one of two free throws helped the Crimson open up a 43-31 lead. The Eagles scored the next five points, leading Amaker to call a 30-second timeout, and right after that, Lin stopped the bleeding with a jumper that was right on the money. Later, the Eagles would get within 49-43, and Lin hit another three-pointer to push the lead back to nine.

As the Eagles tried to mount one last rally, it was Lin who came through again. After a kicked ball extended the possession, he drove to his right with the shot clock running down, put up a jumper while floating laterally away from the right elbow and watched it go through without even drawing iron to give the Crimson a 68-56 lead with 2:19 left.

That, my friends, is what they call a dagger. It was symbolic of what he did on the night, and in particular, the second half.

“This young man has been tremendous for us in every way,” said Amaker.

That’s about all there is to it. Normally, highlight-reel dunks might grab attention, but it was some of Lin’s jump shots that had fans and also many on press row take notice. Several of his assists were on long passes that led to fast break layups, which the stat sheet will never tell anyone. The unfortunate thing is that many who were at Conte Forum were only just last night finding out that he’s excellent and can be a special player.

Lin was a little gimpy after the game, but he played 34 minutes and showed no ill effects whatsoever. You might think of it as the result of a job well done. He showed that even calling him the heart and soul of this Crimson team doesn’t really capture his importance to the team.

The Crimson got fine efforts on the evening from freshman Oliver McNally, who scored 17 points with a few clutch baskets and free throws, and senior Andrew Pusar, who had 13 points on 5-8 shooting. Lin’s classmate, Doug Miller, continued to grow with eight points and nine rebounds. They were certainly part of this win, as were the others who were in the game, and Lin was quick to give them a lot of credit.

But the best player on the court, the one who made Harvard’s first win over a ranked team in its history a reality, was Jeremy Lin. Conversations about this game, and indeed about this Harvard team, start and end with him.

Jeremy Lin Makes Harvard Go

by - Published December 26, 2008 in Columns

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – With a lot of attention focused on the freshmen, it can be easy to lose sight of Harvard’s best player thus far. Jeremy Lin is, after all, a holdover from last season, and even from the prior coaching staff. He’s a little different from the highly-touted newcomers on the roster.

But just as the freshmen show all the potential in the world, they have some growing pains as well. Lin has been through that already, and after starting to break out last season, is coming into his own in a big way thus far in his junior season.

“He’s the catalyst, and he’s been that way for us all season, and it doesn’t surprise me to see a stat line like this,” said head coach Tommy Amaker.

Amaker was referring to how Lin once again filled the stat sheet on Sunday. The junior guard scored a game-high 16 points, hauled down a game-high seven rebounds, handed out five assists (with just one turnover) and had four steals. He did it all in 25 minutes, the first time all season he has played under 30 minutes. It’s something he’s done all season, impacting a game in a variety of ways, and seemingly like few other players not just in the Ivy League, but also in the nation.

Sunday’s game notes mention that as of the most recent NCAA statistical release, Lin ranked in the top ten in the Ivy League in virtually every statistical category. The only noteworthy one where he is not is blocked shots, where he is 15th playing on the perimeter. He is one of five players nationally to rank among the top ten in his league in scoring (third), rebounding (ninth), assists (second) and steals (leads). Of those five players – the others are Marquis Hall (Lehigh, Patriot League), James Harden (Arizona State, Pac-10), Kaleo Kina (Navy, Patriot) and Ryan Thompson (Rider, MAAC) – Lin has the highest total ranking in the four aforementioned categories.

In fact, Lin has impacted games so well that he’s found a way to have a solid stat line even on an off-night. In the second game of the season at Colorado, he scored a season-low 11 points, but tied a career high with five steals and had four assists. Against Army, he had just one rebound and one assist, but scored 24 points and had five steals.

“He’s such an efficient player, he’s a basketball player – I’m not sure he has a position,” said Amaker, who has used him at both guard spots. “He’s a kid you want on the floor.”

There’s no reason to stop with the main stats. After Sunday’s game, Lin is shooting almost 52 percent from the floor, just under 49 percent from three-point range and over 84 percent from the line. That’s not bad for a guy who entered the season as a career 27.9 percent shooter from behind the arc and who slumped to 62 percent from the foul line after shooting nearly 82 percent as a freshman.

Lin made a conscious effort to improve his shooting over the summer, and it’s paying off. While his workouts taking a lot of shots were a big part of that, he can see one major difference from last season with it: confidence.

“Last year, I was so hesitant with the ball and I didn’t want to shoot the three, and now I’m more hunting for that shot,” said Lin. “I’m shooting with more confidence, and that makes a huge difference.”

Though he isn’t playing the point guard spot much, Lin wants to keep his turnovers down. That has been an issue at times in his career, even though he has more assists than turnovers, and this season that’s probably been about the only downer as he’s giving it away nearly four times per game, significantly higher than his career average. Given his improvement shooting the ball, he’s capable of cutting down on the turnovers.

With the Crimson also racked by frontcourt injuries, Lin will need to continue to be a jack-of-all-trades, at least for the foreseeable future. They’ll also need him to continue his defensive work, since that can go a long way toward keeping opponents from getting the ball inside. He fits perfectly into what they try to do. Amaker played and coached at Duke, and they are known for over-playing on defense. Watch Lin anticipate and read passing lanes, and you can see that it’s no accident that he’s having the season he’s having at that end.

“He has great instincts, he anticipates very well,” said Amaker. “We preach and teach that kind of defense, where we’re trying to deny and contest, as we call it. Jeremy fits into that very well for our system and our philosophy. His instincts and his ability to anticipate, you see that over and over again with his ability to go make a play on the defensive end.”

It’s not often that a guy who makes a team go is not the team’s point guard. Though he seems suited for the position, Lin has thrived wherever he has played, and for much of this season he has played off the ball. Even from that spot, he’s clearly the team’s most indispensable player.

“We feed off of Jeremy. There are so many little things he does that ignites our ballclub,” Amaker noted. “He’s the quickest one to any loose ball, and he can make plays that put other guys into position to do good things for our team.”

Though surrounded by young teammates, Lin says he hasn’t felt any extra responsibility. He feels like the freshmen are growing up quickly, and one can imagine that he has probably helped make them better along the way. No matter how good they get to be this season, the guard who isn’t a freshman looks like the one who will make the team go.

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