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Warriors' Jeremy Lin beat all kinds of odds in reaching the NBA

The undrafted rookie is only the third Asian American, and the fourth player from Harvard, to make an NBA roster. And it's looking like he'll stick for a while.

October 30, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

The odds of making an NBA roster are slim.

They're near impossible if you're Asian American (only two have done it), if you attend Harvard (only three), or if your name isn't one of the 60 called during the NBA draft.

And if, by chance, you happened to be blessed/cursed with sharing all three of these traits, the odds then would be, well . . .

"Very, very, very small," said Jeremy Lin, an undrafted Asian American Harvard alum rookie guard for the Golden State Warriors, No. 7 in Sunday's Staples Center program.

Lin, 22, took a statistics class in high school, and again in college — he majored in economics — so he knows Halley's Comet comes around more often (visible from Earth about every 75 years) than someone like him.

"It's definitely unbelievable," Lin said.

After leading his Palo Alto High team to a 2006 state title against powerhouse Santa Ana Mater Dei, Lin failed to get any Division I scholarship offers, despite being named state player of the year in several publications.

Some Pacific 10 Conference schools courted him as a walk-on, but the strongest pitches came from Harvard and Brown. Lin picked Harvard, which has produced eight U.S. presidents and 41 Nobel laureates but just three NBA players, the last nearly 60 years ago.

Had Lin simpler aspirations, the odds of finding gainful employment would have stacked nicely in his favor. The name "Harvard," after all, bumps resumes to the top of most application stacks.

But Lin was determined: Basketball or bust, never mind Harvard's pathetic NBA track record, or that Lin, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, was trying to become just the third player of full Asian descent to earn an NBA paycheck.

"I didn't have any backup plan. I didn't apply for any jobs," Lin said. "I was going to try for the NBA."

Lin recognizes how a few key things fell into place late for him to make it.

After four years at Harvard in which he became the first player in Ivy League history with 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals, eight NBA teams invited him to pre-draft workouts. But none drafted him.

Then, Lin received one invite to play on a summer league team: the Dallas Mavericks, a team that would play against the Washington Wizards with No. 1 overall pick John Wall. And on the night the Mavericks and Wizards squared off, another Mavericks guard happened to be injured, so Lin received more playing time than usual.

And soon, the focus turned from Wall to the 6-foot-3 Lin, who kept one-upping the Kentucky star in one-on-one matchups. With the crowd on his side, Lin finished with 13 points, and a few days later, teams, including the Lakers, started calling.

Eventually, Lin, a Palo Alto native, chose his hometown Warriors, where in limited minutes he'll play the combo guard position after playing point in college.

In July, he signed a two-year deal with the Warriors — the first year partially guaranteed, and the second with a team option that Warriors General Manager Larry Riley has said is likely to be picked up.

However, Lin is now on a team with talented guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, so he's near the bottom of the Warriors' depth chart.

Warriors Coach Keith Smart said Lin is "a driver, not a shooter," but that he can defend, rebound and is a quick learner, though he now needs to learn that "you have other good players on the team, it's not just you anymore."

Lin, a devout Christian, one day hopes to become a minister, regardless of where professional basketball takes him.

But that he ever made it to the NBA at all, considering the odds, is, well . . .

"A miracle from God," he said.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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