ON CAMPUS A look at the area college sports scene

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yale coach reflects on the rise of Jeremy Lin

NEW HAVEN — Long before Jeremy Lin became a pop culture phenom and burgeoning NBA superstar, Yale men’s basketball coach James Jones began looking into recruiting the current New York Knicks’ guard.
Jones, however, used his connections in upstate N.Y. to land high school star Alex Zampier. Lin, a 6-3 point guard from Palo Alto, Calif., ended up at rival Harvard.
“We got some information on Jeremy Lin late,” Jones said. “Alex had a better high school career. Jeremy was a good college player but he’s much better now but I don’t think he ever scored over 20 points in six straight college games.”
Jones’ team went 5-3 against the Crimson in Lin’s four years. He never would believe he was watching a future NBA legend.
“What he did in college has nothing to do with what he’s doing in the NBA,” Jones said. “He’s playing like an NBA all-star now.
“That would be like LeBron James playing against us and he didn’t play like LeBron James when he was at Harvard. He didn’t dominate the league like he’s doing in the NBA. What’s he done is nothing short of unbelievable.”
“No one in any stretch of the imagination can tell you they saw this in him. He’s excelling at a level that is for rare air. No one is doing what he is doing. The Knicks have tried a bunch of different point guards over the past few years and none of them have done what he’s doing.”
Lin has led the Knicks to seven straight wins. He hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the final second against Toronto on Tuesday night and entered Wednesday night’s game against Sacramento averaging 26.8 points and eight assists since getting the chance to play extended time on Feb. 4
As a senior at Harvard in 2009-10, Lin averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.4 steals.
Current Yale senior Reggie Willhite spent some time guarding Lin in Willhite’s sophomore season.
“Knowing what he was like back then and the type of player he is now you can tell how hard he’s worked,” Willhite said. “He just looks like he’s got an iron-clad work ethic. He’s developed into a very good player.
“I’m aware that we play mid-major Division I basketball but you can’t rule out someone that works that hard. If you have talent and that work ethic anything’s possible.”
Lin is not the first Ivy League athlete to make an impact in pro sports. Princeton’s Bill Bradley was an NBA legend in the seventies. Last NFL season, former Princeton quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had a splendid first half of he season with the Buffalo Bills.
But they are rare indeed. Jerome Allen (Pennsylvania) is the last Ivy Leaguer to be drafted in the NBA in 1995.
Lin’s quick ascent to stardom is as unlikely as that of former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner who came out of the Arena Football League to win the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams. Lin came out of the NBA Developmental League, and was just a few days away from getting cut by his third NBA team before catching the world on the fire.
“We have people in our league right now that may end up on an NBA roster if they work hard enough,” Willhite said.
Zampier also went on to play in the D-League upon his graduation in 2010 but played little and did not return this season.
Willhite said that at first he was a bit hesitant to root for a Harvard grad.
“Getting caught up in all the media attention and the hoopla, you know the story that you can’t help but root for him,” Willhite said. “I root for the underdog and he’s definitely the underdog.”
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