Lin's spotlight reaching Cambridge
February, 13, 2012
By Jack McCluskey | ESPNBoston.com
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- While New York Knicks fans may quibble, it’s possible no one has enjoyed Jeremy Lin's breakout week more than his former teammates at Harvard.
Crimson seniors Oliver McNally and Keith Wright played two seasons with Lin, so they know how hard the sudden sensation works and how genuine a person he is, which makes his emergence in a New York minute all the more gratifying.
“It’s such a special thing and kind of an unprecedented thing for someone like Jeremy [to do] what he’s been doing,” McNally said. “I’m excited. He deserves it. There’s no better kid around. And for him to experience all the success is awesome.
“It’s pretty funny to see him on ‘SportsCenter’ all the time,” he added.
AP Photo/Fred BeckhamBefore Jeremy Lin was the Knicks' sudden phenom, he was the pride of Harvard.
Over the past week, the Harvard media relations staff has been inundated with interview requests for coach Tommy Amaker and Lin’s former teammates. Everyone is wondering why they didn’t know about Lin sooner, and they've come to Harvard for answers.
So on Monday afternoon, a larger-than-usual crowd of media members gathered in Lavietes Pavilion for the Crimson’s weekly availability.
All the attention could be overwhelming and off-putting for the Crimson -- if it was about someone else.
“Maybe if it was someone I didn’t like I’d probably be sick of it,” McNally said with a smile. “But for Jeremy, he can ride this as long as he wants.”
Wright hasn’t tired of it either.
“I’m hearing a lot,” he said. “Everywhere I go, it’s like, 'Yo, did you play with Jeremy?' 'Have you talked to Jeremy?' "
It’s not just on campus that Wright is hearing about it. He has been approached off campus, too. Suddenly, the Harvard basketball gear he wears makes him a target for more than just the team’s recent top-25 ranking.
The only problem for his former teammates? Some of Lin’s best performances to date (his 25-point, seven-assist breakout against the Nets on Feb. 4 and his 38-point, seven-assist explosion against the Lakers on Friday night) have come when his former mates couldn’t watch. Because of the Ivy League’s unique Friday-Saturday schedule, the Crimson had their own business to take care of on those nights (wins over Columbia and Penn, respectively).
“We were on the bus. We were so upset that we couldn’t stop somewhere and watch that Lakers game, the end of it after that Penn game,” Wright said. “But just seeing the highlights of it, I mean it’s incredible.”
If incredible is one word to describe it, improbable is another.
Lin scored 109 total points in his first four career starts, the most of any player since the NBA-ABA merger. The only other players to score more than 100 points in his first four starts over that span were Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lin became the youngest Knicks player (23 years 172 days old) to average at least 25 points and eight assists over any five-game span. The previous record holder had been Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who was five months older when he averaged 26.2 points and 12 assists over five games in February 1969.
And Lin is doing it all as the only Asian-American and only the fourth Harvard alumnus to play in the NBA.
The level he has reached hasn’t surprised his former teammates, though. They always knew he was capable of big things.
“I think he always has something to prove,” Wright said. “Going down to the D-League and getting triple-doubles, he was aware that he was too good to be in the D-League. I think he just needed that confidence, and once he got that and once he had that first good game, it was history from there.”
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesLin exploded for 38 points and seven assists against the Lakers on Friday night.
McNally and Wright both said they learned about leadership from Lin, who they say wasn’t very vocal but tried to lead by example. Wright said he tries to do that with this Harvard team, which at 21-3 and 7-1 in the Ivy League has the inside track on an NCAA tournament berth.
Since Lin's breakout game off the bench against the Nets, there have been more questions about what Lin is doing on the court than what McNally & Co. have accomplished.
That’s OK with them too. The more attention Lin gets, Wright said, the more attention Harvard gets.
“He’s a friend of mine,” Wright said. “So to see him getting this much success, it’s awesome to me.”
Asked if he thought the around-the-clock coverage Lin has received recently was over the top, Amaker said no.
“It’s how our world works now, in terms of the stardom and the exposure and the attention,” the coach said. “But you have to do something to earn it, and I think he’s done that and then some.”
And while Lin’s sudden fame has caught many by surprise, the Crimson don’t believe it will change the humble former Ivy Leaguer and current Big Apple star.
For proof of that, just check out what he has said during his postgame interviews.
“He doesn’t like talking about himself,” Wright said. “Every interview that you see, he’s always talking about how proud he is of his teammates, and how excited he is to play with this team that he’s with. And he was like that here. It’s nice to see that the NBA spotlight hasn’t affected him.”
Now it’s the current Crimson players’ job to ensure they aren’t negatively affected by all the attention. After suffering their third loss of the season at Princeton on Saturday, the Crimson fell out of both top 25 polls -- likely for good -- and cannot afford another loss if they want to achieve their goal of reaching the NCAA tournament.
McNally said that shouldn’t be a problem, that the Crimson will remain focused on the road immediately ahead of them even as they take a moment to enjoy the success of a former teammate.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.