Update on Linsanity
Jeremy Lin's high school coach had a predictable reaction when we called him Monday afternoon, even before his prized pupil went for career highs of 28 points and eight assists in his first NBA start for the host New York Knicks, a 99-88 victory over the visiting Utah Jazz later that night.
"Unreal," said Peter Diepenbrock, his coach at Palo Alto (Calif.)
"And it keeps getting more unreal by the moment. I mean, unbelievable,
Unless you believe in fairytales or "Rocky" movies.
Diepenbrock has always believed in Lin, but who could have fathomed his 25-point, seven-assist explosion off the bench in a win over the New Jersey Nets Saturday night? Before that he'd played 13 minutes and scored six points all season.
After Monday's game, Lin, dare we say, is the NBA's hottest, most talked about and tweeted commodity.
After all, he is located in the Big Apple. He's the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. He is an undrafted, twice waived, second-year player from of all places, Harvard.
All these elements simply don't mix.
And now, most importantly, he's injected life and energy into an underachieving, over-budgeted team that hasn't won an NBA title in 39 years. Monday he willed the Knicks to victory without their two biggest superstars – Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Throughout the game, the Madison Square Garden fans were chanting J-E-R-E-M-Y and M-V-P.
"I'm riding (Lin) like friggin' Secretariat," New York coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters after Monday's game.
Though he couldn't have predicted this meteoric 48-hour rise in fame – and likely fortune if he keeps it up – Diepenbrock said Monday afternoon that it was just a matter of time.
"I'm not saying he's Steve Nash," Diepenbrock said. "But everywhere he's gone they've loved him. But someone just needed to give him a chance, a real chance to play say 20 minutes a game for 10 games."
Now it appears in D'Antoni's system, surrounded by superstars who truly embrace him, Lin is going to get more PT than that. He played 36 minutes Saturday and almost 45 Monday.
"His love and passion for the game is totally resonating," Diepenbrock said. "You can just see it in his teammates' faces. They're all so sincerely happy for him. They're feeding off him. They couldn't be happier if they did it themselves."Prep Days
Diepenbrock was selling me on Lin back in 2005 when the point guard was leading Palo Alto High toward a Northern California championship. But Lin tore ligaments in his right ankle and didn't play in the NorCal finals, losing to eventual champion Oak Ridge.
At that point, it just sounded like a heartbreak story to me.
The next year, Lin, broke down all barriers and stereotypes, leading Palo Alto all the way to a state title. His public-school squad, which practiced just across the street from Stanford, defeated heavy favorite and private-school villain Mater Dei 51-47 at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
I took some heat for picking Lin as the San Francisco Chronicle's Metro Player of the Year.
There were three pretty impressive front-liners who are all having at least All-Conference years for their college teams this season – Drew Gordon (New Mexico), Wendell McKines (New Mexico State) and Rob Jones (St. Mary's).
All joined Lin on the first team, but no question the confident point guard did more for his team.
His numbers weren't jaw-dropping that season – not like that trio. He averaged 15.1 points, but jammed up the box score with 7.1 assists, 4.8 steals and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Diepenbrock told me back then there were just two priorities Lin held while leading his team to a 32-1 season.
"Making plays and winning games," he said.
Sounded like a nice little sound bite until Diepenbrock broke down how Lin came through in every jaw-grinding, lip-biting, palm-sweating situation.
"It was uncanny," Diepenbrock said. "You could bank on him every time."
* In Santa Cruz Dad's Tournament semifinals against St. Francis - "We're down a bucket in the final minute of overtime. Jeremy hits a 25-footer. We win (57-55)."
* In consolation title game of Mission Prep Classic against Bakersfield - "We're down three with five seconds left. (Lin) catches inbounds pass, penetrates, kicks and Steven Brown drills a 3-pointer at the buzzer. We win (80-74) in overtime and Jeremy has triple-double."
* In semifinals of St. Francis Tournament against San Ramon Valley - "We're up two, their stud (Brandon Adams) gets the ball underneath in the final seconds. Jeremy rips the ball out of his hands, gets fouled, hits free throw. We win (54-51)."
* In NorCal semifinals at home against Laguna Creek - "We're tied with 50 seconds to go, (Lin) buries a 3-pointer from the wing. After a stop, he penetrates, feeds Brown who ices the win (52-46)."
* In NorCal finals against Mitty at Arco Arena - down one with 24.1 seconds to play, Lin draws two defenders and finds Brad Lehman, who drills 3-pointer from the corner. Palo Alto 45, Mitty 43. "(Lin) makes it look easy."
* In state title game - "We're up two in final 30 seconds. (Lin) decides to drive to the basket. He takes on their star (Taylor King), goes over him and makes a layup to ice it." Not recruited
Was he just born with ice in his veins?
"I just really, really, really hate to lose," Lin said back then before adding another "really."
Having an older brother (Joshua) who played and whom he idolized helped with the competitive edge. Playing basketball from an early age helped too.
Lin, though, was not so physically impressive when he entered Palo Alto. "I was only 5-foot-3," Lin said. "Luckily I grew. Maybe I was meant to be a basketball player."
Despite Lin's lack of height, Diepenbrock knew Lin was a special player before he arrived at Palo Alto. "He was a youth league legend," the coach said. He brought Lin up to varsity during the playoffs his freshman season.
"He nailed a key 3-pointer down the stretch of his first game," Diepenbrock said. "He never stopped making them."
He wasn't recruited out of high school. He really wanted to play in the Pac-10 at UCLA. He didn't exactly settle, but instead was accepted to Harvard and surprised almost all with a storied four-year career that earned him national acclaim.
Lin finished as the first player in Ivy League history to record at least 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals, while leading Harvard to the first 21-win season in school history. He was nominated for John Wooden and Bob Cousy awards and splashed in the pages of Sports Illustrated. He also graduated with a degree in economics and a 3.1 grade-point average.
Diepenbrock, who teaches but doesn't coach these days at Palo Alto, said he talks to Lin just about every day. The two are extremely close and run a summer basketball camp on campus as well.
He said he was inundated with calls, texts and emails after Saturday's game. We can only imagine what it will be like Tuesday.
"The kids and teachers are very excited for Jeremy," he said. "They all take a lot of pride in the fact that a former Palo Alto student and athlete is doing so well. Even if Jeremy wasn't doing this well, we'd always take great pride knowing that he went here."