Evaluating, recruiting or drafting athletes is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get. I remember looking at Rivals’ player rankings when my son was being recruited for college football, and seeing all those stars behind player’s names thinking, “Where did they all come from?” I read somewhere on National Signing Day, UCF coach George O’Leary said the four and five-star recruits too often end up working “at McDonald’s,” so I guess that answers that question.
While most of us in Utah are cheering on the Jazz and keeping an eye on Jimmer in Sacramento, the New York Knicks have a sensation of their own exploding on the cover of Sports Illustrated in Jeremy Lin. Jeremy who? Jeremy Lin “L-I-N!” You know, the first U.S.-born player of Taiwanese-Chinese heritage to play in the NBA? The same kid that, when he goes to Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask him if he is a trainer. That’s the guy.
But the real question is this — how in the world did every college and NBA team in this country miss on Lin, who had no stars, no Division 1-A scholarship offers, ended up playing for Harvard and then went undrafted by the NBA?
The 23-year-old economics grad played point guard in the Summer-Leagues and was picked up by Golden State making three trips to the D-Leagues. He was waived by the Warriors and picked up by Houston. He played seven minutes in two preseason games and was placed on waivers again, falling into the Knicks lap as a third-string backup. Lin was sent back to the D-Leagues where he had a triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists and was recalled by the Knicks three days later. New York was planning to release Lin again before his contract became guaranteed; however, after the Knicks squandered a fourth quarter lead to the Boston Celtics and with an injury-depleted roster, Coach Mike D’Antoni decided to give Lin a chance. On February 4th “Linsanity” began and the nation had a “Linderella” story on its hands.
During his first five games as a starter, Lin averaged 27.2 points and 8.8 assists per game — better than NBA legends Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal. His 136 points in five games is an NBA record, and it gets better. In game six Lin drilled the game winner at the buzzer, and last night he set a personal best 13 assists.
Game 1: Off the bench, Lin scores 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists — Knicks 99, Nets 92. Game 2: Lin makes his first career start, scores 28 points with eight assists — Knicks 99, Jazz 88. Game 3: Lin had 23 points and 10 assists, his first double-double — Knicks 107, Wizards 93. Game 4: Lin scores new career-high 38 points with seven assists — Knicks upset Lakers 92 to 85 and Lin outscores Kobe Bryant by 4 points. Game 5: Lin scored 20 points with eight assists in nail-biter — Knicks 100, Timberwolves 98. Lin named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Game 6: “VaLintine’s Day,” Lin scores 27 points, 11 assists and hits a three-point game winner against Toronto, 90 to 87. Game 7: Last night Lin scored only 10 points, but records career-high 13 assists, leading the Knicks back to .500 while blowing out Jimmer and Kings 100 to 85.
How many players like Jeremy Lin are out there sitting the bench never getting a shot because they don’t look the part or get stuck in a numbers game behind the “stars” with guaranteed contracts? Players like Lin don’t just come out of nowhere. It may seem like they do, but if you look back, their skills have always been there — they just weren’t noticed by anyone that mattered.
When I was playing school ball in Missouri I was a second string strong forward known as a “B-Teamer.” I also played and started for my church team and we were pretty darn good. I arranged a practice game between my church and school teams, with the condition I would play for my church team. My coach readily agreed since after all, I wasn’t a starter! When the dust settled, my church team had beaten the living daylights out of my school team. I had a double-double, dominating the boards. After the game my school coach, looking bewildered, asked, “Where have you been?” I quipped, “Sitting next to you on the bench.” While he gawked, I continued saying, “I’ve been playing like this every day coach, but come game time you never give me a chance!” I started as an “A-Teamer” thereafter. Just ask Jeremy Lin — sometimes all you have to do is give a kid the opportunity. I’ll see you from the sidelines.