Jeremy Lin: The New Steve Nash, making Asian-American history tonight in Santa Clara, of all places

Originally posted Jan 4, 2010 2:37 AM PST

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[Poor Man's Commish's long preface...

TICKETS TO TONIGHT'S GAME, Jeremy Lin's Harvard at Santa Clara University (7pm), are very nearly sold out. Per the SCU ticket office recording during the weekend, out of 4,500 capacity there were about 400-600 tickets left on Friday and my organization just bought 150 of them (50+ sold through us yesterday alone!). We still have some discounted General Admission tickets here, but I predict it will sellout by NOON.

If you want to see an arena filled with thousands of Asian-Americans rooting for the best Asian-American basketball player ever, you should come to this historic game. Heck, even if you can't get a ticket, come by Leavey Center's parking lot to see this crowd. You might never see anything like it again.

All the local newspapers will be there, interviewing fans left and right. Former sports anchor Rick Quan of www.asianamericansports.com will be there. Chinese TV station KTSF-20 will be there. ESPN's college basketball blog beatwriter, Diamond Leung, will be there. The list goes on.

Most everyone will be wearing black in support of Jeremy and Harvard's road alternate black jerseys, since Santa Clara shares the same red/white colors. I don't think a game like this has ever happened before in NCAA Division I!

The following piece comes from one of my colleagues, "SMC" -- and no, the "MC" does not stand for "Man's Commish"; that just happens to be a coincidence! -- who grew up in the same area as Steve Nash. SMC's done a nice, thorough write-up. I present this to having full confidence that GSoM founders Atma Brother ONE and Fantasy Junkie endorse posting this via my account, i.e., IT'S THAT GOOD OF A READ!]

By SMC

When I was in high school way back when, there was this point guard that everyone talked about. He was arguably the best point guard in the province of British Columbia and won a Provincial Championship, along with the MVP trophy that year. We later learned he was given a scholarship to a small mid-major in Northern California called Santa Clara University. We all expected him to be back in Canada playing for one of the local Universities because of the splinters he’d be gathering from being on the bench, as that’s what happened to many of the stars of our province that went state-side.

He eventually did come back. He came back to play against the hometown Vancouver Grizzlies as a member of the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks.

Jeremy Lin will be on the court for Harvard at the Leavey Center Arena at Santa Clara University today. Few will be reminded of Steve Nash crossing over Jason Kidd (who played for Cal Berkeley at the time), Nash's pinpoint 3-point accuracy or his penchant for finding his teammates at impossible angles by watching Jeremy Lin, but Lin is following a similar path of rising from obscurity that Nash’s Nikes paved when he was at Santa Clara from 1992 to 1996.

Lin and Nash play the same position of point guard and their style of play is comparable, but they are hardly mirror images of each other. Physically, they are comparable in stature, as both are listed at 6’3. If you have met the two players, you would know that Nash is barely 6’2 and that Lin actually seems taller than 6’3. (I’ve met both players, and Steve Nash is barely taller than I am and I’m a tad over 6’0 tall. Lin looked down on me when we shook hands. He seemed taller than his listed height of 6’3.)

Body-wise, Nash in college and Lin earlier on looked more like skinny pre-med students than world-class athletes. Nash has always been the prototypical pass first, look for his shot second point guard. His game was always on the ground and very cerebral. He was very quick and fast and always plays at the same frenetic speed and pace, but he has never been explosive. Lin is explosive. He is very deceptive, where it looks like he’s going for a routine drive, but he’ll explode for a dunk. He even averages 1.2 blocks which is a testament to his explosive athleticism. Lin is also adept at playmaking with a 4.53 assists average, but he’s not a player that can dominate a game without scoring like Nash could. Nash averaged 6 assists a game in his senior season, while averaging 17 points

Then how is Jeremy Lin comparable to Steve Nash when he was in college if their games were different? It may seem ludicrous to compare a 2-time NBA MVP that plays for the Phoenix Suns to an Asian American senior at Harvard University, especially if they don’t really look alike or even play alike, but few people remember how often Steve Nash was overlooked and underestimated when they see him now. It’s still early to make comparisons to someone that is a lock for the NBA Hall of Fame, but Jeremy Lin faces the same or maybe even harsher predicaments than what Steve Nash faced on his road to success to the NBA.

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Just the fact that the 2 players ended up playing for non-traditional basketball powerhouse schools and conferences in college begins to shed the evidence on the comparison.

After being the best player in all of Canada, averaging nearly a triple double of 21.3 points 9.1 rebounds 11.2 assists,  he was offered only 1 scholarship. Nash’s high school coach lobbied 30 division 1 teams with phone calls and letters to take his number 1 pupil, but only Dick Davey of Santa Clara University bothered to watch him play in person and offer him a scholarship.

You can hardly blame the division 1 coaches for not looking more closely into recruiting talent from the bordering nation.

"When you're at Pepperdine you get 300 letters a year [from players who might want to come to your school]," said former Wave coach Tom Asbury in SportsIllustrated, "And for a white guard from Canada, you're probably not going to do a lot of follow-up."

Canada is more known for producing hockey players and stronger beer than basketball talent. Mike Smrek, Leo Rautins and Bill Wennington are hardly names that inspire confidence in recruiters’ minds. Former Celtic and Laker Rick Fox was the best Canadian at the time, but he hardly lived in Canada after his parent’s moved him to the Bahamas when he was 3 and then to Indiana in high school.

Jeremy Lin led his high school, Palo Alto, to the California Championship. He led his team to defeat the powerhouse Mater Dei for the 2006 Boy’s title and was named Boy’s Player of the Year.  Lin was the best player on the best team. Yet, nobody offered him a scholarship. Does that seem appalling to anyone else?

In an interview conducted by Dream League New York Commissioner Brian Yang in the winter of 2007, Lin’s freshman season, Lin described his decision process when choosing a school:

"I was mainly choosing between Harvard, Stanford, and Cal. I wasn’t getting any scholarships from Stanford or Cal but in terms of Cal I just didn’t really like it there when I visited it there…

And Stanford, the coach wasn’t really honest with me in terms of recruiting and stuff and I definitely didn’t want to go play for him. Harvard seemed like a good fit in terms of athletics and academics and I enjoyed it when I came out to visit and I just thought it’d be a new experience coming out to the East Coast and just wanted to see what it was like, so I chose Harvard."

In many ways, Lin was slighted more than Nash. It’s completely understandable why nobody else took a chance on Nash because he was a very skinny 6’2 and coming out of a place that was nowhere near the competition level of what the United States had. Take into consideration that in 1992, the Internet had not taken off and the dissemination of news did not reach as far as it does now, so a sensation like Nash would only be heard of by chance or if Nash’s camp reached out and promoted him.

He did, however, receive one scholarship, where Lin was offered none. Lin was the best player in the biggest state in the United States in 2006. This is an age where there’s youtube, more television coverage and more national camps and player recruiting evaluation sites, so you would think that no stone would be left unturned. It wasn’t that the stone was left unturned, but more likely that it was ignored.

Let’s look at reality and address the big elephant. If you haven’t noticed by now, Jeremy Lin is of Asian descent, Taiwanese to be precise. Asians haven’t exactly lit the basketball world on fire. There have been some inroads with Yao Ming (Houston Rockets 2002-present) and Yi Jianlin (Milwaukee Bucks/New Jersey Nets 2006-present) lately and Wat Misaka (New York Knicks 1947-48) and Rex Walters (NJ Nets/Phil 76ers/Miami Heat 1993-2000) of yesteryear, but it has been very few and far in-between.

Even in college basketball, Asians are rare. Bryan Chu of the San Francisco Chronicle in his 2008 article, "Asian Americans remain rare in men’s college basketball,"  says there are 19 Asian Americans and Asian Americans of mixed race in total out of 4,814 division I basketball players. That’s 0.4% when you do the math. Lin addressed the race issue in the same Chu article:

"I'm not saying top-5 state automatically gets you offers," Lin said, "but I do think (my ethnicity) did affect the way coaches recruited me. I think if I were a different race, I would've been treated differently."

You are better off being Canadian than Asian for any precedence in basketball (You’re really screwed if you’re Asian Canadian.).

Both Lin and Nash were chartering fairly new ground. As a result of nobody else taking a chance on them, despite being highly talented, they became the big fish in a small pond, which was and is another question mark for critics to judge their talent for the next level.

To say that Harvard, where Lin plays, and the Ivy League are not known to produce NBA talent is an understatement. The last person to make it to the NBA from Harvard was Ed Smith, who played 11 games for the New York Knicks in 1953. Two notable NBA players from the Ivy League are Chris Dudley from Yale, who played for 16 seasons from 1987 to 2003 on various teams and Matt Maloney, who was undrafted out of UPenn and started as a rookie point guard on a Houston Rockets team that had future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler that won 57 games.

Nash faced the same scrutiny of being in a non-traditional basketball school and conference early on in his college career, as the Santa Clara Broncos only had Kurt Rambis of the early 80’s Laker’s fame as their only notable NBA alumni. There, however, was a point guard by the name of John Stockton that played in the West Coast Conference for Gonzaga from 1980 to 1984 that Nash was often compared to. The unflashy, yet highly effective Stockton went onto being the career assists and steals leader in the NBA in a well-decorated 19-year career for the Utah Jazz. Nash has shied away from the comparisons to Stockton, but it doesn’t hurt when scouts are reminded of an all-time great when seeing you play.

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Lin, unfortunately, does not have the luxury of being compared to anyone else. The closest comparison to Lin might be Rex Walters, who played for the University of Kansas Jayhawks from 1991-93, but no one has made that comparison for good reason. They are different type of players on vastly different teams. Walters did not have to carry his final four Kansas Jayhawks teams like Lin has had to carry his Crimson to even a respectable record. The only thing the 2 have in common is their Asian heritage.

One thing that Nash was able to do to gain recognition during college that Lin has not been able to do is lead his team to the NCAA tournament. It was the NCAA tournament that introduced Steve Nash to the nation, where as a freshmen, his underdog Broncos upset the 2nd seeded Arizona Wildcats, which at the time was the biggest opening round upset in the history of the tournament.

The Crimson have not made the tournament since 1946. This year Lin and his team can change that. The Crimson are 8-3, as of December 29th. Cornell, who has won the last 2 Ivy League Conference titles and returns all their starters from last season, is the favorite, but with the way the Crimson are playing and barring injury, will make a good run to be in the tournament for the 1st time in 64 years.

Lin has also enjoyed some national attention recently. His buzzer beater in a triple overtime thriller against William and Mary was one of ESPN’s highlights of the night, as well as a feature article on the site by Dana O’Neil. He also seems to play his best when playing against higher competition, which gives him more recognition. Lin began to receive more national attention when he led his team with 26 points in an upset win over #17 Boston College last season. This season he almost led the Crimson to an upset over #10 University of Connecticut with 30 points. The next game he poured in 25 to upset Boston College for the 2nd year in a row.

The numbers are also hard to ignore. Last season he was the only player in the nation to rank among the top 10 in his conference in every major statistical category (steals, assists, scoring, free-throw percentage, free throws, free-throw attempts, rebounds, blocks, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage) . So far this season, his stat line looks like this:

18.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.3 turnovers, 2.1 steals, 1.2 blocks, 52% FG, 74% FT, 37% 3P

He leads his team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and three-pointers. NBA draft experts such as ESPN’s Chad Ford and draftexpress.com have taken notice. Legendary Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was quoted,

"He knows how to play," Calhoun said. "He's one of the better kids - including Big East guards - who have come in here in quite some time."

Calhoun knows quite a bit about elite guards, as he’s coached the likes of Ray Allen (Boston Celtics), Richard Hamilton (Detroit Pistons) and Ben Gordon (Detroit Pistons).

Steve Nash has had to prove his doubters wrong that he wasn’t just any "white" point guard who’s numbers seemed inflated because he played in inferior settings. Also, take into consideration that the mid-90’s was the era of the athletic scoring point guards in the mold of Allen Iverson. The highly regarded point guards at the time were Iverson of Georgetown and Stephon Marbury of Georgia Tech, both of whom were selected ahead of Nash in the 1996 draft (Iverson, 1st overall, Marbury, 4th, Nash, 15th), so Nash’s style of play was somewhat old-fashioned compared to the new wave of athletic scoring point guards that were coming into vogue in NBA circles at the time.

It was out of Steve Nash’s control where he was from or what "race" he belonged to. He was special and he knew it, even if everyone else didn’t. With the opportunities he was given, he made the best of them. A testament to how special of a player and person Nash is, there hasn’t been any point guard from Canada make it into the NBA since.

There, however, might be a Taiwanese American point guard that may very well meet him there that took a similar path. Jeremy Lin has done the same things so far, as far as making the most of the little opportunities that were given to him because of shortsighted people (I’m sure the coaches at Cal and Stanford are kicking themselves right now.).

Now, if it was me way back when and someone told me about an Asian-American basketball player that leads his high school to a state championship against the state’s traditional powerhouse program, then ends up at Harvard, a dismal basketball program because nobody offers him a scholarship, scores 30 points against UConn and he’s going to be in the NBA, I would have thought the person was out of touch with reality.

But today, I’m a believer because it’s happened before and it’s happening again.

Also see: Bow to the Jeremy Lin Movement (b-o-w = Based On What?)

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