Taking On the Stereotypes: Asian American Basketball Player Excels on the Court - Higher Education
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Taking On the Stereotypes: Asian American Basketball Player Excels on the Court

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by Lydia Lum

After leading his high school basketball team to a state title averaging 15 points a game, the 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound young man hoped to draw some Division I college scholarship offers. 

But none came.

He went on to join Harvard University’s team. There, his stellar play the past three seasons has earned him national media attention, an array of accolades, and the unplanned role as a model for other Asian Americans.

Meet Jeremy Lin. He’s one of only a handful of U.S. Asian male college basketball players, which he and others attribute in part to social stereotypes that paint Asians as lacking athletic prowess.

“It definitely gives me more motivation,” he says. “I play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder.”

Nationally, Asian Americans make up less than 1 percent of men’s Division I basketball players, according to the most recent NCAA Student-Athlete Race and Ethnicity Report. The numbers among Division II and III are not much higher.

Only 19 Asian men – including Lin – played on Division I teams during 2006-2007, for instance. And, since 1999-2000, that figure has never been more than 27 a year but usually far fewer.

Yet those playing in the college ranks have definitely sunk their share of shots.

This year, for example, senior guard Kelvin Kim of the University of California, San Diego won all-conference honors after averaging 11.3 points during the regular season and a team-high 3.8 assists. And U.S. Naval Academy senior guard Kaleo Kina led the Patriot League by averaging 18 points per game this past season.

Meanwhile, one of Harvard’s high points this year came in January when Lin scored 27 points to lead the Crimson past No.17 Boston College, an upset that marked Harvard’s first victory over a ranked opponent. Soon afterward, USA Today praised Lin as one of five college players or teams deserving more TV exposure.

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Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker hopes the media attention paid to Lin and other Asian American players for their achievements will help pave the way for others onto college teams. “We need to expand our horizons,” Amaker says.

However, that has not necessarily occurred yet among some spectators. Lin and others say it is not uncommon for him to be taunted for his ethnicity during road games, with shouts like, “Orchestra is on the other side of campus” and “Open your eyes.”

Lin takes it in stride, having heard such remarks ever since he was old enough to hold a basketball. But Amaker is more blunt, saying, “He has heard awful things, and there’s no place for that kind of mean-spirited behavior.”

Back in high school, Lin led his northern California team to a state championship by upsetting a nationally ranked opponent in the finals. He compiled career highlight tapes that he sent, along with his academic transcript, to various universities on the West Coast and elsewhere. No one singled out his ethnicity out loud, he says, but no school offered a basketball scholarship or guaranteed him playing time either. As policy, Harvard does not offer athletic scholarships.         

More recently, Lin was the only Division I player in the country this past season to rank among the top 10 players in his conference in every statistical category, such as field goal percentage, steals, and blocked shots, to name a few. Lin, who will co-captain the Crimson next season, was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches all-district team and was Harvard’s MVP for the second year.   

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© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com

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