Commentary

Jeremy Lin's HS coach is surprised, too

Updated: February 14, 2012, 8:11 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

In this great but divided land of ours, there's but one thing on which we can all agree: Jeremy Lin is not underpublicized. There is no immediate danger of Lin being relegated to the small print or being ignored on the nightly highlights. The man is a full-blown phenomenon, but you already knew that.

Still, if you want to know how crazy this whole thing has gotten, don't ask Lin. Ask Peter Diepenbrock.

[+] EnlargeLin
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJeremy Lin and his Palo Alto High School teammates won a state title for coach Peter Diepenbrock.

Diepenbrock coached Lin at Palo Alto (Calif.) High School, and Friday morning he received two calls from San Francisco television stations. They wanted to know where he would be watching that night's game between the Knicks and Lakers. He told them he'd head over to a local tavern with a couple of Lin's former high school teammates. Lin scored 38 points that night, and three guys watched it with a camera trained on them. Television magic was made.

Think about it, though: People wanted to watch him watch Lin. Is there any greater testament to the level of craziness? And despite Diepenbrock's relationship with Lin -- they text every day -- it's worth noting that he watches a game the same way the rest of us watch a game: passively, in a manner that is not especially telegenic.

It doesn't matter, though. Diepenbrock didn't have to do anything else. The mere sight of someone watching Lin is newsworthy. Right now, no angle of the Jeremy Lin story is too obtuse to investigate. Too much is not even close to enough.

"It's been crazy for me," Diepenbrock says. "I can't imagine what it's like to be him."

Diepenbrock is funny, profane and blunt. He's enjoying his moment. He won a state championship Lin's senior year, and the turning point came when the coach -- who admits to being "as anal as any coach, ever" -- sat his star player down and said, "Let's tell it like it is. I'm the defensive coordinator; you're the offensive coordinator. Just get it done."

And what Lin is doing now as a Knick is exactly what he did in high school: repeatedly come off a high ball screen and let his instincts get it done. From Diepenbrock's perspective, the world is seeing Jeremy being Jeremy.

"But what about the fearlessness?" Diepenbrock asks. "What about having the [male parts] to [bleeping] take on three guys, including a 7-footer? And how about doing it when your entire career is on the line?"

You know how people from an athlete's past always say they saw it coming? They never, ever doubted, and now they can't believe it took the rest of the world this long to catch up? Well, Diepenbrock isn't one of those guys.

Never did he believe he was coaching an NBA player when he had Lin in high school. ("No, no, no," he says.) And when no big-time program -- not even Stanford, the one across the street -- thought enough of Lin to offer him a scholarship, Diepenbrock really didn't have a problem with that.

"I wasn't sitting there saying all these Division I coaches were knuckleheads," Diepenbrock says. "There were legitimate questions about Jeremy."

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIPeter Diepenbrock never expected to be watching Jeremy Lin light up the Lakers.

Diepenbrock starts to say something else, then stops. "I already got in trouble with Jeremy for saying this, so I probably shouldn't," he says. Then, a few seconds later, he says, "Oh, what the hell. I'll say it anyway and get in trouble twice: Jeremy was not a good practice player."

Really? The hard-working kid from Harvard, undrafted, cut by two NBA teams -- not a good practice player? Go ahead: shatter our dreams.

But wait. Diepenbrock's not finished. After a year at Harvard, Lin returned to Palo Alto and asked his old coach, "Can you work me out?"

"Now?" Diepenbrock asked. "I was here every day for three years, and now you want me to work you out?"

Lin, ever the pragmatist, said, "Yes, because now I know I need it."

From that point on, a workout fiend was born. During the lockout, Lin's schedule read like a brochure for Navy SEAL BUD/S training:

10-11 a.m.: Agility training
11-noon: Weight training
1-2: Shooting work, with private coach
2-4: Individual work

Lin played whenever he could, which meant playing in Sunday morning pickup games with his two brothers and joining Diepenbrock's night-league team. "I'm a 48-year-old fat guy working on my jumper, and my night-league point guard is the talk of the NBA," Diepenbrock says. "If you knew who this guy is at his core -- it's such a real story, so good it's unreal. When he was in high school, if there was alcohol at a party, he'd immediately turn the other way. He's such a good person."

Lin's mother, Shirley, would sit in the stands an hour before Jeremy's high school games, thumbing through a sheath of opponents' box scores. There wasn't a lot of basketball history in the family; Lin's parents are Taiwanese immigrants who adopted basketball because their sons did.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lin
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJeremy Lin did not have an NBA physique, much less a DI one, in high school.

"Jeremy is 6-3, and that's just a fluke that nobody can explain," Diepenbrock says. "The others are like 5-6 and 5-7. But I'll tell you one thing: All three Lin brothers come off an on-ball screen the same exact way." Joseph Lin, generously listed at 5-11 and 135 pounds, played 16½ minutes a game as a freshman guard at Hamilton College this season.

The only time Diepenbrock had a problem with the Lin family was when Shirley would approach him and say, "Coach, Jeremy has an A-minus in math. I don't think he's going to be able to play this week."

Diepenbrock says, "You know how parents tell their kids they can do anything? Most people just say it to say it, but Jeremy's mom lives it. Because of that, Jeremy's always had this ridiculous confidence level. A friend of mine said, 'The way Jeremy's mind works, he's probably wondering why this didn't happen last year.'"

The undercurrent to the Jeremy Lin hysteria seems pretty simple: Get it all out now, all the disbelief and superlatives, because there's a good chance it won't last. Solid reasoning, since the specter of Carmelo Anthony's return threatens to turn the Knicks back into a typical trudge-and-drudge NBA team.

Doesn't matter, though. The world will always have the past 10 days, and Diepenbrock will always have one particular moment. It happened in the Knicks-Lakers game, early, when Lin and Kobe Bryant were running downcourt together, trailing the play, neither part of the action.

Kobe reached out and put his hand on Lin, not a shove but not a tap, either. More than anything, a message. You know, a pecking-order thing.

Diepenbrock's voice starts to rise and accelerate as he talks about what came next.

"Jeremy swiped his hand away," he says. "It was like, 'Get the [bleep] away from me.' And that moment, man -- that was Jeremy. He's a nice guy, but he's cut-throat."

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote the autobiography of Pawn Stars' Rick Harrison. "License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and my Life at the Gold & Silver" is available on Amazon.com. He also co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," available as well on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com