Before Jeremy Lin was the starting point guard for the New York Knicks, back-to-back Sports Illustrated cover person, and all-around national sports phenomenon, he was an economics major and basketball player at another Cambridge university, Harvard.
While the MIT-Harvard rivalry is more academic than athletic, the two schools occasionally meet on the playing field. One instance was December 28, 2009, when the Engineers took on the Lin-led Crimson in the first regular season MIT-Harvard meeting since 1985. The Division III Engineers went into the game confident and undefeated (11-0), with the Division I Harvard team coming off tough losses to Georgetown and Connecticut.
“There was a lot of hype going into it, and we were real pumped for the game,” says Engineers guard Billy Bender ’12. “I was even more pumped when I found out that I’d be guarding (Lin).”
The game was close to start, but Harvard pulled away before halftime en route to an 88-61 win. With 1,564 fans on hand at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion, Lin led all scorers with 18 points and added four assists, three blocks, and three steals in 26 minutes.
“He was a really smart player, very efficient,” says Bender, who had nine points and seven rebounds. “I had to be aware of where he was on the court at all times. But even though he scored 18 points, it wasn’t 38 points, like he scored against the Lakers (on February 10).”
The Lin-MIT connection has another interesting anecdote, according to a guest blog post on ESPN.com by former Engineer associate head coach Oliver Eslinger, which conjures up the ultimate what-if scenario for Tech hoops fans:
From ESPN’s TrueHoop blog:
“I admit that I’m not as surprised as many others. I also admit that I’m a bit biased because, one, I love watching smart kids succeed in basketball and, two, I tried recruiting Lin to my former division III school in the northeast, MIT.”
In fact, the 2009-2010 season would be Harvard’s best to date and helped position Lin to land with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors after graduation. He bounced from Oakland to the Chinese Basketball Association’s Dongguan Leopards, the minor league Erie BayHawks, and the Houston Rockets before joining the Knicks, where the Linsanity phenomenon took off earlier this month.
“Did I see him playing like an All Star in the NBA? No way,” says Bender, whose Engineers host the NEWMAC championship tournament this weekend. “But the more success he has, my story of that game gets better and better.”
Will Lin’s–and Harvard’s–success open the NBA door for its Cambridge neighbor? Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni thinks so, in a tongue-in-cheek comment he made during a recent game: