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Fanhouse.com: In Like Lin

by David Steele, Fanhouse.com

Jeremy Lin knows that people are talking about him, now more than ever before -- and that largely because of him, they're talking about Harvard basketball more than ever. None of it means he's that comfortable with it, though.

"That's something I have to guard against,'' Lin said Wednesday afternoon. "It's a trap for me to start being able to think about myself, because our team is a true team, team-oriented, and that's how we play. The media, the way they give awards they don't give it to the whole team, but everybody on this team understands what each person needs to do. It's not about what one person does. It's not a one-man show, and everybody understands that.''

Guarding against being swallowed up by the attention, though, might be the most challenging of all the tasks Lin faces this season, because it's not going to stop, not as long as he keeps playing the way he does. The 6-foot-3 senior guard from Palo Alto, Calif., is no longer the best-kept secret in the game, nor are the Crimson able to sneak up on unsuspecting opponents -- not with their 7-3 record that includes a win over Boston College for the second straight year and a near-miss at Connecticut.

In those games, three days apart earlier this month, all Lin did was score 27 and 30 points, respectively, adding to a resume that exceeds what most Ivy League players have done recently, and a legend that has inflated rapidly over the last two seasons. Explosive, acrobatic, fearless, blessed with a full range of abilities but also able to score in bunches when asked to, Lin has made himself impossible to ignore. After averaging 17.8 points a game as a junior and also leading a .500 Harvard team in rebounds, assists and steals, he now is averaging 18.2 a game, he leads the team in the same categories this season -- and has it at 7-3, matching stunning results and upsets with unanimous preseason Ivy favorite Cornell.

Magazines, newspapers, networks and other observers are jumping on the Lin bandwagon, calling him the most underrated, underexposed and under-appreciated player in the country. That talk is what Lin steers around so diligently, but opposing players and coaches are just as effusive.

"He's one of the better kids, including Big East guards, who have come in here in quite some time ... I can't think of a team he wouldn't play for,'' marveled Jim Calhoun after Lin had given his Connecticut team fits before it finally subdued Harvard 79-73 on Dec. 6. Added Huskies guard Jerome Dyson, who had to defend him: "He's a great player. I'm definitely tired after this one."

Three days later, when asked how Harvard could beat Boston College twice in one calendar year, including at Chestnut Hill on Dec. 9, coach Al Skinner said, "You've got to give Lin some credit. He's a good player."

So good that Lin -- once a productive high schooler but unheralded recruit and one of the few remaining Crimson players that preceded third-year coach Tommy Amaker -- drew all of Georgetown's attention in Wednesday's game in Washington. Though nominally he's the off-guard, the offense runs through Lin, and setting up teammates didn't work against the Hoyas' smothering defense and long, shot-blocking presences inside (Greg Monroe had five of their eight blocks, plus 16 rebounds). Lin only took 10 shots, made six and led Harvard with 15 points, but that included three uninhibited drives right at Monroe that resulted in twisting, hanging layups -- as well as a soaring dunk to finish a breakaway he began with a steal, and a three-pointer from NBA distance.

More critical to Georgetown's 86-70 win (after breaking away from a 33-all tie late in the first half) was guard Chris Wright's career-high 34 points, which he said was partly due to his and his backcourt mates' challenge of facing someone like Lin. "Jeremy's a great player. He's really hard to guard and he can score in a variety of ways,'' Wright said. "I guess some of the bigger schools underestimated him, but he's really talented.''

Amaker -- for whom Lin is one of three seniors who plays regularly on a roster packed with freshmen and sophomores -- goes one step further: "He's one of the better players in the country. I'm not stretching anything; I feel like I'm qualified to make a statement like that, and I think he's a talented, gifted, passionate basketball player. I love coaching him, and I think he has a very bright future.''

The coach added that he asks a lot of Lin, putting him in the playmaker role and counting on his versatility, unselfishness and leadership. "There's so much he can do, and he wants that,'' Amaker said, "and sometimes I have to spread it out a little bit so he doesn't take on too much at too many moments. But he's after it, he's one of the better players you'll see all year, and he's earned everything he's had coming to him of late.''

Lin doesn't mind shouldering the extra responsibility, since either instinctively or by practice, he shifts the emphasis of questions about him onto the team. For example, if he's noticed all the best-kept secret talk about him.

"You know, I'm not really sure -- it's hard for me to know what everyone else is thinking,'' he said. "I think in general, our team has opened eyes this season in terms of rebuilding, or building a new culture. The coaches and the team are doing a good job of putting Harvard on the map. This is really the first season we've been doing that, so hopefully people are starting to look out for us.''

Indeed, Harvard's last winning season was 2001-02, and its last year with a winning league record was 1996-97. Its last (and only) NCAA tournament berth: 1946. It would have to get through two-time defending Ivy champ, whose 9-2 mark so far includes wins over Alabama, Massachusetts and St. John's. But to lead a program to a breakthrough like that, even Lin might have to acknowledge the kind of player he is.

"We know we have a chance,'' Lin said -- again, sidestepping a query about himself in favor of an answer about his team. "I'm not going to make any promises, but we're gonna work as hard as we can.''