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Jeremy Lin: America wakes up to what some Classen High students already knew

COMMENTARY — Before he was the savior of New York, Knicks guard Jeremy Lin was an inspiration to some Asian-American basketball players at Classen High in Oklahoma City.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 15, 2012

Thirteen days ago, before the Sports Illustrated cover and the Tim Tebow-like treatment on ESPN and the sheer Linsanity of it all, you'd have needed to look high and low for someone who knew about Jeremy Lin.

Or you could've just looked inside the gym at Classen High.

That's where Oliver Ting has been most winter afternoons the past four years, practicing with the Classen boys basketball team, trying to follow in Lin's footsteps.

“He was sort of my hero,” the senior forward said, “even before he was the savior of New York.”

During the past two weeks, Lin has become the new Superman in Metropolis. He used to be an afterthought on the Knicks bench, a free-agent acquisition who was so uncertain of his basketball future that he crashed on his brother's couch.

Now, you can't turn on SportsCenter unless you're ready to stomach a heavy portion of the Linderella story.

The fairy tale started two Saturdays ago with a 25-point, seven-assist performance against the cross-river rival Nets. It grew when Lin scored 38 points against Kobe and the Lakers. And darned if it didn't add another chapter Tuesday night when Lin hit a game-winning three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left against the Raptors.

“After his first big game, I sort of crossed my fingers,” Ting said. “‘Can he do it twice? Can he do it three times? I'm not sure.'

“I was just hoping he'd get a starting job.”

Lin has gotten that and so much more, including an adoring legion of Asian-American fans. They have come out en masse everywhere that Lin has played since that first big performance.

But listen to Ting and several of his other Asian-American teammates, and you'll realize that the Legend of Lin is older than you might think.

“It's kind of funny,” Classen guard Minh-Duc Pham said, “because it's like everyone just discovered him.”

Lin has been a known commodity among most of Classen's eight Asian-American players since his college days at Harvard. He landed at the Ivy League school, which awards no athletic scholarships, after being turned away by Stanford, Cal and many others.

Ting remembers a friend in middle school giving him a newspaper article about Lin. It explored how much harder it had been for him to even make it to the Division-I level and how difficult it would likely be for Lin to make it in the NBA.

Would teams even take a chance on him?

That story motivated Ting.

He started trying to find broadcasts of Harvard games, which was difficult to impossible in Oklahoma City. But even if he couldn't watch Lin play, he read as much as possible about him on the Internet.

Ting felt a connection to Lin. Both have Chinese ancestry, both are second-generation Asian-Americans, and their upbringings were similar. School was first. Basketball was second.

“In American cultures, it's dream big if you want to be a basketball player,” Ting said. “If that's what you love, go for it.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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