PORTLAND — Lawrence Hill saw his first Jeremy Lin T-shirt when he and his Stanford teammates walked onto the court at Maples Pavilion for their pregame shoot-around that late-fall day in 2007. He glanced again into the crowd and saw another. And another.

It seemed half of the 7,000 fans were connecting with the slender Asian-American on the visiting team from the East Coast. Hill shook his head. What’s up with this?

Call it early Lin-sanity that flared up for real last week in New York and has continued around the globe. The fever spiked with Lin’s 38-point performance and a Knicks victory Friday night over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden. Overnight, Lin became another Rocky Balboa without the boxing trunks and swollen eye.

Hill is a 6-foot-8 forward for the Maine Red Claws, joining the team after the holidays. More than four years ago he was beginning his junior season when Harvard and a sophomore point guard named Jeremy Lin arrived in Palo Alto for its season opener in the Travelers Classic.

That Lin grew up practically across the street from Stanford and was a star at Palo Alto High made it a homecoming. Hand out those T-shirts.

“I think we won by 40 points,” said Hill after Tuesday’s team practice at the Portland Expo. “I can’t remember how Lin did.”

Hill’s a nice guy who was being nice. Stanford won, 111-56. Lin played 21 minutes and had goose eggs across much of the scorebook. Nine shots taken from the floor, nine misses, including three, 3-point attempts. No foul shots. No points. No rebounds, no assists. He had two steals. Statistically, it was the worst game of his sophomore season in which he averaged 12.6 points per game. It happened – or didn’t happen – in front of a crowd who knew him best.

Hill and Lin met again on Jan. 20 at the Portland Expo. The Knicks had sent Lin down to the Erie Bayhawks, who were in town to play the Red Claws. Lin burned the home team, scoring 28 points while adding 12 assists and 11 rebounds. Hill scored 17, second to Mo Almond’s 25 in the Red Claws’ loss.

Hill and Lin talked that night. “He’s a good guy, a good player. I’m not surprised (at Lin’s sudden success in New York.) He’s worked hard.”

The NBA has 30 teams and 15-man rosters. That’s not a lot of jobs, considering the world contributes to the pool of available players. For every one job there are hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates. Which makes Lin the newest poster child for all those who toil in the NBA Development League.

“I can’t just say I’m a better player and if I just had the chance I’d prove it,” said Hill “We have to constantly push overselves and learn how to humble ourselves. You have to have faith in yourself and believe a team will put their faith in you.”

Lin did and that hasn’t been lost on those who’ve watched his tortuous path to the NBA.

Red Claws President Jon Jennings saw Lin at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament last April in Virginia. The top 64 college seniors were invited and showcased in 64 games over four days. “He was phenomenal. A natural point guard with natural instincts.

“There are guys who play the point guard and there are guys who really play the point guard. I’ve been a fan of his since his junior year at Harvard.”

Hill, who briefly was with the Sacramento Kings after the NBA lockout, is a fan, too. Yes, Lin’s six-game string of scoring 20 points or more will end. But Hill, for one, doesn’t see problems in the Knicks’ on-court chemistry. Amare Stoudamire returned to the court Tuesday after grieving the death of his brother. Carmelo Anthony should return soon from his injury. Some say the Knicks’ game will revert back to its ego-driven ways.

“People want to focus (on the negative),” said Hill. “If I’m Amare, if I’m Carmelo, I’m thinking we’re a better team now. Why would I mess this up?”

Good question.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway