ENGLISH: Linsanity caught us by surprise

Published 11:15 pm Thursday, March 1, 2012

By Jim English

It’s not often that we get caught by surprise in the world of sports anymore.

ESPN and sports talk radio let us know days ahead of time exactly what will be announced at a press conference. “Sources close to the team” make it almost impossible to keep a secret from the public. And recruiting websites and draft analysts keep us well-informed of who the “can’t misses” and “blue-chippers” are before they ever set foot on the field or court.

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But every once in a blue moon, there is a Villanova, or a Buster Douglas, or a Miracle On Ice that defies all logic.

Which brings us to Jeremy Lin.

The 6-foot-3 Asian-American point guard for the New York Knicks burst onto the scene on February 4th by coming off the bench to score 25 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, and dishing out 5 assists in helping defeat the New Jersey Nets. The reason everyone was caught so off guard – and the reason everyone was left asking “Who’s Jeremy Lin” – is that he was listed as the Knicks’ third-string point guard at the time.

Of course this was not the first time a virtual unknown had all the stars align just right for him to have a huge game. But Lin’s performances since that night have proven that it was no fluke. He was named a starter for the next game against the Utah Jazz, and led the Knicks to victory with a 28 point, eight assist performance, all with two of the Knicks biggest stars not playing. He followed that with his first double-double – 23 points and 10 assists against the Wizards, then outscored Kobe Bryant with a career high 38 points in defeating the Lakers. His performance during the 4-game win streak earned him Eastern Conference Player Of The Week honors and almost nightly features on ESPN SportsCenter.

Lin was officially no longer flying under the radar.

Then, as if to answer the question, “What can this kid do next?”, Lin hit a last-second game-winning three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors on Valentine’s Day.

Not bad for a kid who received no scholarship offers coming out of high school, was undrafted coming out of college, and was waived by two NBA teams in the pre-season before being picked up by the Knicks.

Lin led his high school team in Palo Alto, California to a 32-1 record and a state championship. Despite averaging 15 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals per game and being named Northern California Division 2 Player Of The Year, he was not highly recruited or offered any college scholarships. He sent DVD highlights to UCLA, Stanford, and all the Ivy League schools, but was only asked to walk-on.

Although Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, Harvard guaranteed Lin a spot on their basketball team, and since his academics met their high standards, that’s where he headed. By his sophomore season, he was averaging 12.6 points per game and was named All-Ivy League second team. In his junior year, he was the only Division 1 player to rank Top 10 in his conference in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and 3-point percentage. He was first team all-conference his junior and senior years, and is the only player in Ivy league history to amass 1450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals.

Although being invited by eight NBA teams to pre-draft workouts, Lin went undrafted. Most believe he was overlooked for much the same reason he received no college scholarship offers. Basketball scouts are typically impressed – or unimpressed – within the first few minutes of watching someone. The kid who is incredibly fast, has a 40-inch vertical leap, or is physically intimidating immediately catches the eye.

In short, the NBA in particular favors the athlete who is a dominant one-on-one player. To fully appreciate what Lin offers, he must be seen in a team context. Although his point totals were impressive in his first several games, it was mostly out of necessity, with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire missing from the lineup. Those in the know who are familiar with Lin’s game primarily point to his ability to run the offense and distribute the ball.

He has predictably been compared to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, as a player who doesn’t fit the mold for being the typical successful pro athlete. But the thing that may be most impressive of all is the way Lin, like Tebow, has conducted himself and dealt with the doubters along the way.

When questioned about his ability to deal with the adversity he has faced – including numerous ethnic slurs and racial stereotypes which likely delayed his stardom – Lin replied, “I’ve surrendered that to God. I’m not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore”.

I, for one, hope that more athletes follow the Tebow/Lin model until we’re forced to accept the possibility that their faith in God may just be a major contributing factor in their success.