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Harvard Grad Got Game

Jason CruzContributor IJune 24, 2010

Harvard education, NBA skills. Jeremy Lin has both.

Lin, a 6-foot-3 inch, 200 pound point guard, is training in anticipation for the NBA draft on Thursday, June 24th. Lin, a Taiwanese American, would be rare in a league dominated by White and African American players.

Lin’s parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan. Shirley and Gie-Ming are computer engineers. Lin’s father was a huge basketball fan and shared this love with his 3 sons. Jeremy’s mother, Shirley, recalls her son’s athletic ability from an early age. “Jeremy loved soccer and basketball even before the age of 5. He would go to all of his older brother’s practices and just do the drills on the sideline by himself. When he was in 4th grade, we realized that YMCA basketball was no longer challenging for him, so we started looking for higher level basketball leagues.” When Jeremy began playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, Shirley and Gie-Ming realized that Jeremy had a talent. Even with his talent, Shirley recalls the hard work and effort he put in since he was young to have the potential to one day play in the NBA.

Lin recalls that his family was different than many from Taiwan. “I can understand Chinese when other people are talking to me and I know enough to carry a conversation, but our family is very different from traditional Taiwanese families,” Lin explains, “We were raised in a non-denominational Christian background, and my brothers and I played sports all the time growing up, which was rare to see in Taiwanese families.

In his senior year of high school, Lin led his team to a high school state title in California. He also was named the state player of the year. Yet, he received no scholarship offers from Division I basketball schools. He decided to leave the west coast to play at Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts. “I chose Harvard because Harvard and Brown were the only schools that wanted me to play for them. Cal [University of California-Berkeley], Stanford and UCLA offered me walk-on [play on the team but no scholarship] opportunities, but no one offered me a scholarship,” Lin said.

Academics over athletics

Despite being a basketball star at his high school, Lin’s parents stressed that his education came first. “They fully supported me in basketball, especially because my dad really loved the sport,” Lin recalls, “They stressed academics over athletics. If I didn’t care [about] my schoolwork, I couldn’t play basketball.” Lin’s mother, Shirley, recalls having to tighten the reins on Jeremy’s gym time when he was in high school. “Our house rules have always dictated that academics come before activities/basketball. The only thing above academics is Sunday worship. If the grades ever dropped due to time management issues, then we would cut down on their time spent in the gym and with friends. Jeremy’s usually self-disciplined. However, like any other youth, during his sophomore and junior basketball seasons in high school, we had to cut down his Sunday night open gym time with his church friends because he had to get a head start for the following week’s homework.”

Harvard

Lin had a solid career at Harvard capped with a stellar senior season. He led the Crimson in points, steals and assists. Harvard’s head coach, Tommy Amaker said of Lin, “Jeremy was our most dedicated player and his passion for the game is one reason why he became one of the better guards in the nation.  His enthusiasm and hard work was contagious on our team and he crafted his basketball skills to make him a true versatile player and a threat from anywhere on the court.”

Despite his play, Lin received a lot of verbal taunts based on his ethnicity. He recalls the most taunts coming when Harvard played other schools in the Ivy League. “I don’t really want to get too specific but it’s just stereotypical stuff about Chinese people.”

Lin graduated with a degree in Economics. After his freshman year, Lin learned how to manage his time properly and balance the rigorous schoolwork at Harvard while playing basketball.

A devout Christian, Lin wants to get into ministry and possibly become a pastor after his playing days end. He sees himself working with underprivileged communities and nonprofit work.

Prepping for the Pros

Lin has been spending most of his time training for the NBA draft. He compares his game to Phoenix Suns guard, Goran Dragic. “We’re both effective in the pick and roll and play with a high basketball IQ, but we’re not freak athletes or anything like that.”

While Lin relies on his family for emotional support, his agent assists with the business side of basketball. Lin’s basketball agency includes former Seattle Supersonics guard, Gary Payton. Payton has given Lin advice on what it takes to make it the NBA. “He mainly talked to me about staying low and in a stance at all times on offense and defense. He said that [is] one of my biggest weaknesses.”

The New York Knicks brought Lin in for a workout to determine if he could be a potential draft choice.

If Lin’s name is called, he will be a role model for many aspiring Asian American basketball players. “In a sense I know that I am somewhat of a role model because the Asian American community has really reached out to me and shown the support.” But, Lin maintains that he will not change as he lives according to his Christian lifestyle. If Lin’s name is not called at the NBA Draft, he would like to continue his career either in the NBA’s Developmental League (a minor league for the NBA) or in one of the many professional leagues overseas.

During his senior season, Lin had the opportunity to visit Seattle when Harvard played Seattle University in January. In addition to being the leading scorer in that game, Lin had a memorable dinner. “I got to have dinner at the Space Needle. It was a great experience!”

Original version published in Northwest Asian Weekly. (Photo by Elise Amendola/AP)

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