|Jeremy Lin's passion and love for the game are infectious, proven by the Knicks' winning streak. (AP)|
When they watched Jeremy Lin, what were they seeing? I'm talking about the coaches around college basketball who watched Lin in high school in California but didn't offer a scholarship. I'm talking about the general managers in the NBA who watched Lin at Harvard -- no scholarships in the Ivy League -- but didn't draft him.
I'm talking about the Golden State Warriors, who had Lin for the 2010-11 season but rarely played him, sent him down to the D-League -- where he averaged 18 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists -- and then released him when the lockout ended in December. I'm talking about the Houston Rockets, who picked up Lin three days later for preseason camp, then released him before the season opener.
And don't get cocky here, New York Knicks fans. I'm also talking about your team, which sent Lin down to the D-League in January -- where he recorded a triple-double three days later -- brought him back to New York, then buried him for seven games before playing him 36 minutes against New Jersey on Feb. 4 out of emergency.
All of them. When they watched Jeremy Lin, what were they seeing?
Obviously they weren't seeing a point guard with the confidence to lead, the charisma to have others follow, and the talent to make it all work. They weren't seeing a 6-foot-3 athlete with the explosion to get to the rim and the elevation to finish above it. They weren't seeing a shotmaker or a playmaker.
So what were they seeing?
An Asian-American? Is that what they saw? It's true, few Asian-Americans have made it in college or the NBA, but college coaches and NBA scouts aren't jingoistic beasts. They routinely mine the countries of South America, Africa and Europe for untapped talent, though they've done very little in the Far East. Quick, name every Asian player you can think of. I'll start: Yao Ming, who stood 7-foot-6 and was tremendous when healthy. Yi Jianlian, whom I happened to watch at the ABCD high school camp a decade ago. And ... that's it. I can't name any others. I know they exist, could find them with a quick Internet search, but can't name them from scratch. Maybe you're the same.
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That's no excuse. Not to the college recruiters and NBA scouts who watched Jeremy Lin destroying his competition -- not just competing evenly, not just winning, but destroying -- and didn't see what they were seeing.
So what were they seeing?
An Ivy Leaguer? Is that what they saw? The Ivy League has produced one of the greatest players in basketball history, Bill Bradley of Princeton, but it hasn't sent many others to the NBA. Before Lin came along, the NBA hadn't had an Ivy Leaguer since 2002-03, when center Chris Dudley (Yale) and guard Matt Maloney (Penn) played. Previously, Geoff Petrie (Princeton) was a two-time NBA All-Star in six seasons and a lifetime 21.8-ppg scorer before suffering a career-ending knee injury in 1976 -- and Petrie has been the Sacramento Kings' top personnel guy for more than a decade. What did Geoff Petrie see when he was seeing Jeremy Lin?
They were seeing something -- just not Jeremy Lin, basketball player. They couldn't have been seeing that guy, because after his senior season in high school, as California's Player of the Year, Jeremy Lin could have suited up for any college in the country. A high-academic achiever from Palo Alto, Calif., Lin wanted to play for hometown Stanford, but Stanford coach Trent Johnson didn't offer a scholarship.
What was Trent Johnson seeing?
Not offered a scholarship by any of the other 300-plus schools in Division I, Lin took the hint. The son of two engineers, Jeremy Lin wasn't going to walk on just anywhere, so he sent a DVD of his highlights to all eight Ivy League schools, seeking a walk-on spot on their team. Only two coaches, at Brown and Harvard, offered him one. What were the other six Ivy League coaches seeing?
At Harvard, Lin dominated. Again, he didn't just compete, didn't just win, but dominated. As a junior he was the only player in the country to place in the top 10 in his conference in the following eight categories: scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, blocked shots and shooting percentage from the field, line and 3-point arc. As a senior he put up similar numbers (16.4 ppg, 4.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 1.1 blocks) and was devastating against UConn, scoring 30 points in the final 24 minutes and totaling nine rebounds, three assists and three steals -- with a spectacular block of Jerome Dyson, whose dunk attempt was swallowed above the rim by Lin's right hand. Afterward, UConn coach Jim Calhoun called Lin "terrific" and noted, "He's one of the better kids, including Big East guards, who have come [into Gampel Pavilion] in quite some time."
Calhoun also uttered another comment, meant as praise, but still ... Calhoun uttered a short sentence that might have been inside the head of other men -- first college recruiters, then NBA scouts -- when he commented on Jeremy Lin, athlete:
"He's athletic -- more than you think," Calhoun said.
More than you think.
Which brings me back to my question, and there are a lot I could ask at this point. I could ask: After averaging 26.8 points and eight assists in his first five games of significant NBA action, how good will Jeremy Lin be? He has led the formerly 8-15 Knicks to five straight wins, but what happens when Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire return? And how long before sports fans, who are loving his unique story now, reach their Lin-sanity saturation point and turn on him?
Those are questions I could ask. But for now, I'll just return to the question I can't stop wondering. The question is simple, but loaded. Harmless, but dangerous.
Before he became a revelation, Jeremy Lin had played lots of basketball for lots of basketball experts, and almost all of them decided they were unimpressed. So when they watched Jeremy Lin, what were they seeing?