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New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin speaks to a teammate during the second half of the Knicks' basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Feb. 11, 2012. (Eric Miller/Reuters/Eric Miller/Reuters)
New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin speaks to a teammate during the second half of the Knicks' basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Feb. 11, 2012. (Eric Miller/Reuters/Eric Miller/Reuters)

ROBERT MacLEOD

It's Jeremy Lin time in Toronto Add to ...

The NBA’s newest phenom, with just four games as a starter under his belt, has aspirations for a higher calling, according to Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He wants to be a preacher.”

Casey told a media gathering at the Air Canada Centre on Monday afternoon Jeremy Lin is already preaching from the pulpit of the New York Knicks and the legion of converts continues to grow for one of the most unlikely NBA success stories to come along in quite some time.

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An undrafted castoff of two other NBA teams, the Harvard graduate had been sleeping on a teammate’s couch this season while his brother’s place had been unavailable.

The 23-year-old had been buried at the end of the Knicks bench for most of the season until injuries forced the hand of coach Mike D’Antoni.

In the four games Lin started he has scored 109 points, the most by any player in his first four starts since the ABA/NBA merger in 1976.

With Lin as the anchor, the Knicks have reeled off five successive wins and will play the Raptors in Toronto on Tuesday night.

“Lin has probably found the right spot,” said Ed Stefanski, the executive vice-president of basketball operations for the Raptors. “The coach and the system, that high pick and roll, Lin can execute it well.

“Obviously he’s a very smart player, both in the classroom and on the court as a basketball player.”

The club is anticipating the Air Canada Centre will be sold out (19,800) for just the second time this season and first time since the home opener.

That certainly has a lot more to do with the sudden drawing power of the American-born point guard of Taiwanese descent than it does with the Knicks, a sub-.500 team despite their recent good fortune.

And it also speaks to the large volume of Chinese-speaking residents who live in the Greater Toronto Area, which numbers close to 490,000 and accounts for roughly 10 per cent of the population. Many are obviously basketball fans judging by the high demand from Chinese media organizations scrambling to obtain accreditation from the Raptors.

Casey said he got to know Lin two summers ago when he was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks and Lin was playing for the Mavericks in the Las Vegas summer league.

It was there that Casey learned that Lin held aspirations to become a preacher.

Casey said it was also surprising to have a Harvard graduate in the basketball mix.

“My question to him was, why in the hell do you want to be an NBA player, you’re smarter than all of us?” Casey said.

On Friday night in New York, Lin dropped 38 points in a 92-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden.

Stefanski said he caught the tail end of the game on television at Real Sports, the glitzy sports bar at Maple Leaf Square.

“The place was going crazy every time he scored and made an assist – and this was in Toronto,” he said. “It was wild.”

Harvard is not known for developing NBA players.

The last graduate from that Ivy League institution to play in the NBA was Edward Smith, who played 11 games for the Knicks in 1953-54.

Stefanski himself is an Ivy League graduate in 1976 from the University of Pennsylvania.

He said Lin’s sudden rise is a great story, for both the Knicks and the NBA.

“It was funny back in the 1970s when I played at Penn, Penn and Princeton always dominated the Ivys,” he said. “All the other schools were always accusing us of doing something wrong to bring in all the best players.

“Now everybody’s complaining about Harvard bringing in all the good players.”

Raptors spokesman Jim Labumbard said that following Tuesday’s game, in order to accommodate the media surge, Lin will be brought into a separate room for interviews.

That is usually a move reserved for league heavyweights.

The last time that happened in Toronto was last season when the high-profile triumvirate of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade first came to town with the Miami Heat.

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