SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Even for a first-time visitor to the Leavey Center, it was clear that the crowd for last night’s contest between Harvard and Santa Clara was atypical. As 4700 spectators packed the arena—a record for a non-conference game that tied last season’s attendance against Gonzaga—more than half represented the Crimson, or at least its Palo Alto star Jeremy Lin.
With a full Broncos student section heckling the heralded co-captain and thousands wielding signs and t-shirts of support, Lin sparked a unique atmosphere in his homecoming game, a 74-66 victory for Harvard.
“We’ve played in a lot of different places and seen some pretty good crowds, some pretty intense crowds,” freshman Kyle Casey said. “But this crowd was great. Santa Clara was on us and our fans were with us, so [there] was great energy out there.”
It became clear even before tipoff that this road contest would be unusual for the Crimson, as Lin’s announcement in the starting lineup brought thunderous applause from the spectators. Even though the senior guard had represented Harvard in the Bay Area once before—during a disastrous Stanford tournament two seasons ago—Lin noted the challenge of facing so much scrutiny, particularly given his status as the face of the Crimson program.
“I tried to stay a little more relaxed [than against Stanford], and it wasn’t very easy,” he said. “I’ve never really had a game with more support than this game in my entire life. That made me real nervous.”
Adding to the intensity was the ongoing cultural interest that Lin has garnered as an Asian-American. Considering the vastly diverse attendance and the number of T-shirts reading “The Jeremy Lin Experience,” it appeared that Lin singlehandedly altered the Bronco basketball experience. While the Taiwanese standout tried to keep his focus on the court, Lin’s teammates ensured that the star took note of the crowd’s heavily-skewed demographic.
“I wasn’t really paying attention to [the number of Asian supporters], but when I went into the locker room my teammates told me it looked like Hong Kong,” Lin deadpanned.
But joking aside, the senior voiced tremendous appreciation for his growing fan base.
“A lot of people go out of their way to be really, really supportive,” he said. “It’s people that I’ve never met before and people that I’ve known. I’m very thankful for it all, very flattered and overwhelmed.”
BOYS TO MEN
Lin faced heightened attention not only from thousands of spectators but also from the five opponents on the floor. Santa Clara emphasized collapsing on the guard as he drove to the basket, effectively limiting his night as a scorer.
But Lin simply consented to take a back seat, making up for a meager six points by dishing out nine assists—most of which found Harvard’s trio of up-and-coming rookies, Christian Webster, Dee Giger, and Casey.
The three freshmen proved to be the only scorers in double digits for the Crimson, accounting for over 70% of Harvard’s points. Casey led the pack with a career-high 27 on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting, while Webster netted 15 and Giger 10. The group also showed its versatility, driving to the hoop to draw fouls and demonstrating range. The trio went 19-of-24 from the free-throw line and hit all five of its three-pointers, but Lin noted that the group’s intangibles were equally valuable.
“The last two classes have been the most talented recruiting classes we’ve seen, ever,” Lin said. “And they’ve been really humble. They’re eager to learn and they don’t think they know it all…They respect the coaches and just come ready to play every day.”
Casey certainly appeared ready to contribute against the Broncos, jumpstarting the Crimson offense with 13 first-half points. The rookie’s effort marked a third-consecutive career high, as Casey backed up his Ivy League Rookie of the Week honor from last week with a game-changing performance.
“Certainly, you can see what [Casey] can do on the offensive end,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “He’s an inside-out player. You can see what he brings to the program.”
Yet as Amaker praised the freshman’s talent, Casey deflected credit, emphasizing the benefits of hard work on the court.
“I think I’ve been playing with a lot more energy, being out there and being active,” he said. “I’ve just been in the right place at the right time, and knocking down shots.”
So too have his classmates, and Harvard continues to reap the benefits.
—Staff writer Max N. Brondfield can be reached at email@example.com.