Q+A: Jeremy Lin's Coach at Harvard, Tommy Amaker

Last month, we ran a long profile of Tommy Amaker, the coach who’s made Harvard basketball into a top-notch program that’s headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 65 years. (Congrats, Crimson!) The one thing we didn’t address in that story was Jeremy Lin, who starred for Amaker for three years before graduating in 2010 and starting a journey to the NBA.

Well. Since then, obviously, Lin has exploded. He’s averaging 15 points and 6 assists a game over the past month, and has schooled the likes of Deron Williams and Kobe Bryant (even if Rajon Rondo abused him).

Given the birth of Linsanity, it seemed only right that we circle back to his old coach, Amaker. Even though he’s prepping for the NCAA tournament, Amaker spared a few minutes to talk about one of his old stars.

Boston magazine: You arrived at Harvard in 2007, at the beginning of Lin’s sophomore year. How polished of a player was he at that point?
Tommy Amaker: We referred to him as a playmaker for our team. We wanted him to move the ball and move around a lot. He’s very instinctive when it comes to the game, and he has a fearlessness about him. That’s who he’s always been. You see him now, and he’s a terrific north-south player, who can get into the paint. He’s a dynamic player, and it’s what you see now in New York with the Knicks. The game is different — the spacing of the floor and the rules — but he’s still that same hard-charging player.

BM: Did you expect him to make the NBA?
Amaker: Well, it wasn’t like he left us and went straight to the Knicks. It’s been two years since he was at Harvard. He played in the Summer League, and then with the Mavericks and Golden State, and then in the D League. He’s been bouncing around and having a journey. That’s the neat thing about Jeremy: he’s maintained his passion and focus. He’s performed incredibly well when the stage is big and the lights are bright. He was able to do that in the collegiate program, against Boston College or Georgetown. When we played those teams, he wasn’t just the best Harvard player, but the best player on the floor.

BM: What kind of role did Lin have in leading the Crimson?
Amaker: Jeremy was the kind of player who led by example. He wasn’t necessarily the most vocal player. You see him now, and he’s much more vocal. He’s learning and growing. For us, he was lead-by-example kind of player. Jeremy was one of our captains, but we had other players who could do those things as well. What we had in Jeremy was our best player and our hardest worker.

BM: Have you talked with him since the media storm?
Amaker: I’ve been able to stay in touch with him, texting here and there. He’s obviously very busy. We’re just so incredibly proud of him. He’s very deserving of everything that comes his way. If you spend any time with this young man, you’re just incredibly happy for him. There’s a purpose about him and where he’s going. He loves basketball and it’s great to see how basketball has evolved for him, but he has a bigger calling.

BM: Thanks for the time, Coach. Good luck in the tournament.
Amaker: Thank you!