CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Tommy Amaker didn’t know much about any of the players on his new team. His team had played against them once, in his last season at Michigan, and the scouting he did before that game and the game itself represented just about all he knew about the Crimson.
And how much can you really learn in an 82-50 walkover?
Amaker can definitely be forgiven if he didn’t notice his future star player’s role in that game: two points on 1-for-3 shooting, one rebound, one assist and three personal fouls in 13 minutes off the bench.
That’s what he knew of Jeremy Lin before he got to Harvard.
Here’s what he knows now: “Jeremy Lin obviously has been a sensation around the country, around the globe. And we’re so very proud of him, as you can imagine. And to be able to have played a small part, as the university, as his coach and teacher, as his teammates, along the journey with him, boy is it neat, is it fun.”
That journey includes helping turn around a perennially woe-begotten college basketball program; going unselected in the NBA draft; latching on with his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, as a free agent; playing sparingly, then getting demoted to the D-League; getting released by his hometown team; catching on with the Houston Rockets for a tryout, then getting released again; catching on with the New York Knicks, playing sparingly, then getting demoted to the D-League; and, finally, being recalled and forced into the lineup by injuries, succeeding wildly and unexpectedly taking New York City by storm.
“It’s pretty cool,” Lin’s former coach said. “It’s pretty neat to see how he’s kind of become a sort of global figure and a global star, but he has many layers to him and it’s nice to see he’s getting recognition for who he is in addition to being an outstanding basketball player.”
Those layers only add to the story.
“Being a Harvard grad, being an Asian-American kid, being an outstanding basketball player, being a person whose faith is very important to him, being an incredible person, being a great teammate,” Amaker said, explaining what makes up the story of Jeremy Lin aside from the 109 points he scored in his first four NBA starts -- the most by any player since the NBA-ABA merger.
“You could go on and on about this kid, and I think that’s what makes him really special and really unique.”
“I think the style of play, the fit there, is ideal for Jeremy,” Amaker said of the situation on Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks. “The spacing the floor, the pick-and-roll, I think it’s ideally suited to who he is.”
Since his 25-point, 7-assist breakout game off the bench against the Nets on Feb. 4, Lin has been uniquely suited to the kind of team New York is. And that’s made him a star in the Big Apple.
And when you’re a star in New York, you’re a star everywhere.
Of course, Lin was already a star at Harvard, where his framed Warriors jersey hangs in the lounge at Lavietes Pavilion.
“On a limited basis he was that here,” Amaker said. “We went on the road, I mean he had a following. He was somewhat of a cult figure here in the Ivy League and when we went to different places to play. So obviously it’s gone to a whole different stratosphere but we’ve seen glimpses of what everyone else is seeing now, including that.”
They also saw some very good basketball. In his four seasons in Cambridge, Lin became the first player in Ivy League history to record 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals. He left the school first in games played (115), fifth in points (1,483), fifth in assists (406) and second in steals (225).
As a senior he helped Harvard to a 21-8 record and a berth in the postseason in the CIT tournament, quite an improvement from his freshman season, when the team finished 12-16 overall and just 5-9 in the Ancient Eight.
The Crimson are now in a place where they’ve been ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in school history and made it as high as No. 21 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. They’ve won 20 games in three straight seasons, and in 2011-12 are favored to win the Ivy League and play in the NCAA tournament.
Ask Amaker, and Lin had a lot to do with that.
“He helped elevate our program to wherever we are now,” he said. “That kid is directly responsible for this thing moving in this direction.”
Lin helped change the mindset at Harvard, leading by example and showing that the Crimson could be competitive both in and out of the Ivy League. And through it all he stayed humble, his faith grounding him and his work ethic driving him.
Which explains why the coach who now knows him so well, who’s so proud to have helped him get to where he is today -- playing like practically no one else has in the history of the NBA, on perhaps the biggest stage in the Association -- joked on Monday that even though Harvard is in Celtics territory there may soon be a new jersey hanging in the lounge at Lavietes Pavilion.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jack_mccluskey.