By Jorge Castillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; D01
After eight U.S. presidents, 19 Supreme Court justices and 41 Nobel laureates, it looks like Harvard University can chalk up a different achievement this summer: its first grad in the NBA in 57 years, and just the fourth ever.
Jeremy Lin, who signed July 21 with his hometown Golden State Warriors, also will be the first Asian American in the league since 1947, when Wat Misaka, a Japanese American, became the first non-white player in what was then known as the Basketball Association of America.
"Trying to make the NBA is one of the very few areas where a Harvard degree won't necessarily help," Lin said matter-of-factly.
Lin is aware of the significance of both accomplishments, but doesn't want the labels. He was usually the only Asian on the court when he captained Palo Alto High to a California state championship in 2006 and during four years at Harvard, where last season he was part of the 0.5 percent of Asian American Division I men's basketball players.
Lin just wants to be known as a basketball player.
"I'm aware of all that but I'm just going to be focused on playing basketball," said the 6-foot-3 Lin, a devout Christian who was born in California after his parents immigrated from Taiwan. "I'm a basketball player. Everyone wants to focus on me being Asian American but me being a basketball player, me being Christian, is more important to me than just being simply Asian American."
According to basketball-reference.com, only 40 Ivy Leaguers have played in an NBA or ABA game. Lin would become the first Harvard grad to play since the 1953-54 season, when Ed Smith appeared in 11 games with the New York Knicks.
In his brief time on the Dallas Mavericks summer league team earlier this month the topic was unavoidable.
"That was my name, they just called me 'Harvard,' " said Lin, who graduated with a degree in economics. "Anytime I messed up it was, 'Aw, I thought you went to Harvard.' "
Going into June's draft, Lin was considered a borderline pick. He had worked out for eight teams, including the Warriors, and received some positive feedback. But he didn't have any expectations when he watched the draft at home with his family, high school coach and pastor.
He went undrafted and was invited to play on the Mavericks summer league team, where he impressed in five games off the bench. He averaged 9.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game. Against John Wall and the Wizards he scored 13 points and won over the crowd.
"I gained a lot of confidence," said Lin. "I think I got to show my game and how I play in a five-on-five setting and not in a one-on-one or three-on-three setting like the workouts were."
In those five games he convinced clubs that he can compete with the talent that generally is not found in the slower-paced and less athletic Ivy League.
"He understands the overall game," said Warriors General Manager Larry Riley. " . . . He handles the ball well. He's one of those guys that has a chance to keep getting better in other phases of the game."
After the summer league, a number of teams showed interest. Lin said his agent, Roger Montgomery, presented him with the three best offers. Lin said he chose the Warriors over the Mavericks and Lakers because of location, style of play, his chances of making the team and the terms of the contract.
He reportedly signed a deal that guarantees him half his rookie salary, estimated at $500,000 -- a pact uncommon for an undrafted free agent. The contract has a team option for a second year and Riley said "we're looking at him to be with us beyond one year."
Golden State recently traded point guard C.J. Watson and needed a back up for Stephen Curry. Lin may be the answer. But like most rookies, he needs to improve in several areas, including his strength, defense and, most importantly, his outside shooting, Riley said.
The guaranteed money and Watson's trade are strong indications of Lin's chances of making the team and battling for minutes behind Curry.
"I'm a lifelong Warriors fan," said Lin, who is projected to move to point guard after playing shooting guard at Harvard. "In hindsight, not getting drafted was a blessing in disguise from God."
Lin has had to prove himself since high school. Named state player of the year by several publications, he did not receive a single Division 1 scholarship offer. UCLA, Stanford and Cal recruited him as a walk-on, but Harvard and Brown -- which, like all Ivies, do not award scholarships -- showed the most interest.
"It's hard to speak for the people who recruited me," Lin said. "In their defense, there were a lot of different risks for people to recruit me. I wasn't the biggest or most explosive. They just didn't know how my game would transfer for the college level. But I was disappointed and thought I had been overlooked."
He chose Harvard, where former Seton Hall and Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker was hired after Lin's freshman season. Under Amaker, Lin blossomed into a unanimous all-Ivy League first-team selection his junior and senior seasons. He briefly received national recognition during wins over Boston College and a 30-point, nine-rebound showing against then-No. 12 U-Conn. last season.
He endured frequent slurs during road games, including, a teammate told Time magazine, when a fan yelled "sweet-and-sour pork" during Harvard's loss at Georgetown last December.
But the Warriors see Lin's ethnicity as a marketing advantage in the Bay Area. The club is creating a campaign around him.
"If he didn't have the skill set to go with it, that's not something you want to get into," Riley said. "I felt it was most important that he'd be a basketball player first."
That's what Jeremy Lin wants too.