For the past few weeks, “Linsanity” has been sweeping the nation. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it is the buzz centered around 23-year-old Harvard graduate and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Shu-How Lin. Since earning a starting position on the team in early February, Lin has averaged 24.6 points, 9.2 assists, and 2.4 steals per game, scoring more total points in his first five starts than any player since the merger of the ABA and the NBA in 1977. However, Jeremy Lin’s story is not one of “how did he get so good so quickly?” but rather “how did he go unnoticed for so long?”
Lin graduated from Palo Alto High School in California in 2006, where during his senior year he led his team to a 32-1 record and a CIF Division II championship while averaging 15.1 points, 7.1 assists, and 5 steals per game. He did not receive any scholarship offers to play basketball and was only guaranteed a chance to play at Harvard and Brown, ultimately settling on Harvard. During his senior year, he was named First Team All-Ivy, averaged 16.4 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.4 steals per game, and became the first Ivy League player to record over 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals during his college career. Despite his performance, Lin went undrafted in the 2010 NBA draft and floated around between the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets, and NBA D-League teams before ultimately finding the Knicks. He began the season as the third-string point guard until he finally got the opportunity to start against the Nets on Feb. 4.
There are two main reasons why it took so long for Jeremy Lin’s talent to get noticed. The first is that he went to schools that did not offer the highest competition level possible. He competed at such a small high school that his stellar performance was even overlooked by Stanford, which is literally right across the street. He then played for an Ivy League team, which is a Division I school in name only and rarely produces NBA talent. No matter how good Lin’s statistics were, no NBA team was going to hire an untested Ivy League player to compete in the most competitive basketball league in the world.
The second reason Jeremy Lin was not sought after by NBA recruiters is that the current NBA selection process does not play to his strengths. He is not the fastest player in the NBA nor does he have as high a vertical as other NBA stars. He also does not play well in one-on-one or two-on-two scrimmages, which is a standardized way for NBA recruiters to evaluate prospects.
So then what makes Jeremy Lin such a sensational basketball player? Simply, Jeremy Lin hustles every single minute he’s in the game, and he has great fundamentals. He has great vision on the court and has stepped up to the higher competition level and challenges that the NBA presents. What more is there to ask?
But how do you measure a basketball player’s qualities like ability to cope with high pressure situations or ability to work with teammates to win games? The NBA needs a holistic recruitment process that does not hold things against players such as what leagues they previously played in. Instead, it should focus on whether an athlete’s abilities, personality, and work ethic will enable them to perform once they get to the NBA. Jeremy Lin has demonstrated that he belongs in the NBA, and he is outperforming countless other players who look better on paper. Jeremy Lin may not look, act or play like the typical NBA player, but there is no question he has had a major positive impact. There needs to be a way to ensure that the Jeremy Lins of the basketball world don’t get overlooked when they seek recruitment into the world’s best basketball league.