Long before "Linsanity" hit New York, there was merely Jeremy Lin, a high school basketball player with Advanced Placement grades that made friends envious.
Lin starred on Palo Alto High School's 32-1 team in 2006. He was long and lithe at 6-foot-2, fundamentally sound and a team leader who wore youthful expressions of glee and pride.
Lin looks and performs the same today as he turns the basketball world upside down for the Knicks with victories and a sudden Tim Tebow-like maniacal following.
Remarkably, Lin is averaging more points in his recent NBA breakthrough than he did at Palo Alto, where he beat teams with an array of jumpers, runners and back-door assists in capping his high school career with a CIF Division II state championship at Arco Arena.
The Vikings won by seven or fewer points 10 times during Lin's senior season, and each time he played a critical role, his prep coach, Peter Diepenbrock, recalled.
Lin dropped in late baskets and found cutters to beat Laguna Creek 52-46 in a NorCal playoff game at Palo Alto's cramped gym, built 85 years ago and plucked out of the movie "Hoosiers."
Nearby, Stanford football player Matt Traverso had read about Lin's success at Palo Alto, where he averaged 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Traverso had played basketball at Christian Brothers under Jim Stephens, who had become Laguna Creek's coach. Before the NorCal game, Traverso talked to Laguna Creek's players.
"I'd heard so much about (Lin), and everything was true," said Traverso, now a legislative analyst in Sacramento. "I was sort of a consultant for Laguna that night, sat on their bench. Told the guys to put a body on Lin, to keep him out of the lane, but Lin was amazingly quick. He was ahead of everyone else.
"Everyone was at one speed, and he was faster, better, and he could see things in slow motion, so he controlled the pace. Coach Stephens had a wonderful game plan, but in the end, the cream rises to the top. What (Lin's) done since then, in the NBA, is a great story because he's a kid who has worked hard, played the game the right way, and you root for that."
Said Stephens: "Lin had complete control of the ball. We tied the game with two minutes left and then "
Then Lin finished Laguna Creek off.
Lin had a following, though no one held signs of "Linsanity." One fan did have a "Lin Means Win" sign, and another had "Lin is In."
Half of Palo Alto seemed to march into Arco in 2006, and Lin was the first one mobbed after the school called "Paly" beat Mitty of San Jose in the NorCal final and then toppled nationally ranked Mater Dei of Santa Ana 51-47 in the state title game.
In the final, the Vikings chopped down a team that had seven players 6-7 or taller behind Lin's 17 points and eight rebounds.
After that game, Diepenbrock received a flood of congratulatory emails and one sour one from a fan disgusted that the coach couldn't land Lin a college scholarship. "You've failed him," the fan wrote. "My sons will never get a chance to see him play."
Diepenbrock certainly tried, but despite Lin's skills and grades, no scholarships offers came. Cal and Stanford invited him to walk on, but Lin wound up at Harvard and flourished. The Ivy League school has now produced eight U.S. presidents and three NBA players.
Lin signed with Golden State after going undrafted. After one season, the Warriors waived him. After Houston cut Lin, New York nearly waived him as well before he finally got his shot and ran with it.
"When a player is playing that well, he doesn't come out of nowhere," Kobe Bryant told New York reporters Friday after the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers behind Lin's career-high 38 points. "It seems like he comes out of nowhere. Go back and take a look, and the skill level was probably there from the beginning. It's just that we didn't notice it."
Diepenbrock sure did. The retired coach said Lin remains as fundamentally sound a player as he's ever seen. Is he surprised at Lin's success now?
Everyone is, Lin included, Diepenbrock said.
"Unreal," Diepenbrock said of Lin's journey to sudden NBA fame, adding he still speaks with his former star. "And it keeps getting more unreal by the moment. I mean, unbelievable, right?"