In late November, Kentucky’s Wesley Christian School and new head coach David Meddings pulled off a program-defining upset of West Virginia’s mighty Huntington Prep.
The Circuit Riders overcame an early deficit to close out a 75-74 win, boosted by a stirring, all-around performance from junior point guard Benson Lin — 29 points on 14 shots, 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range, four steals and no turnovers.
“You got Linsanity here,” a Huntington coach told Meddings after the game.
Performances like this one — when Jeremy Lin dropped 38 points on the Lakers nearly five years ago, in his third start for the New York Knicks — surely crept into that coach’s mind as he watched Wesley’s Taiwanese point guard in action.
Benson Lin’s name and game carry those inevitable comparisons to the NBA veteran, who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets. It also brings up one inescapable question that has been asked of players before and will likely be asked again: Is he the next Jeremy Lin?
A legit prospect
Benson Lin is averaging 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 steals per game for Wesley Christian. The 17-year-old native of Taipei has basketball in his blood. Both of his parents — Lin Zhengming and Liu Jingming — played for Taiwanese national teams. In 1998, the elder Lin, a renowned coach in Taiwan, helped bring Kobe Bryant to China for the first time while working for the Chinese basketball development system. He also used to coach Taiwan’s junior national team.
After playing junior high hoops in Taiwan, Lin decided to come to the United States in 2015 to continue pursuing his dreams. Lin met Cory Heitz, a coach working at the Nike All-Asia basketball camp, in 2014, and Heitz influenced Lin’s decision to choose Wesley Christian. Both Lin and his father believe playing in the U.S. can help Lin grow as a player and make the transition to college.
He also quickly became famous back in Taiwan. Jeremy Lin was born and raised in California to Taiwanese parents and his ascent to starting NBA point guard was enthralling. Anticipation for Benson Lin to do the same is difficult to quell.
“It’s an honor,” Benson said. “I’m happy to hear people talking about the comparison between Jeremy and me in Taiwan. I see it as motivation.”
Living thousands of miles away in Kentucky, Lin misses home — and the transition wasn’t easy at first. He had to learn English while simultaneously developing his basketball skills. Lin also had to adjust to little Allen City, Kentucky, after growing up amid Taipei’s urban landscape of 2.7 million people.
“It’s so different from Taipei,” Lin said. “I feel like here is countryside. Nothing’s going on here. Basketball and study — that’s all.”
Four other Taiwanese players are at Wesley Christian, their decision based mostly on Lin’s, according to Meddings.
The 6-foot-4, 160-pound Lin is “a high-IQ player who can play fast in the half-court set and a three-level scorer who consistently makes the right play,” according to ESPN scouting expert Paul Biancardi.
Biancardi believes Lin could be an all-conference player at a mid-major program in college, with potential to play at a higher level. Meddings agrees, and says Lin could be the first Taiwanese basketball player at a high-major school. Meddings previously coached Minnesota Timberwolves star and former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, along with draft prospects Thomas Bryant and Miles Bridges, when Meddings was at Huntington Prep.
“Benson has the same personality like Andrew,” Meddings said. “He lets his game do the talking.”
ESPN recruiting insider Jeff Borzello confirmed that Lin has offers from Stetson, Drexel, Winthrop, Rice and UAB, and has attracted interest from Middle Tennessee State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Marshall and Tennessee. Borzello said Lin made an unofficial visit to West Virginia on Jan. 24, to watch the Mountaineers’ game against Kansas. It was the second time he visited WVU’s campus. He also has visited Tennessee.
Wesley Christian teammate Harry Sun, who met Lin at the Nike All-Asia basketball camp, calls Lin a genius with the ball.
“With that Euro step and 3-point shot, he will be the next Jeremy Lin for sure,” Sun said.
Sun and fellow teammate David Lee also pointed out Lin’s disciplined approach to the game. He’s not only strict in his own habits, he asks teammates to join him for extra sessions in the gym — and even do the cleanup.
“The only time Benson has disobeyed me was [when] I asking him to take a day off, but I still caught him at the gym,” Meddings said.
The next Jeremy Lin … or something else?
When Benson met Jeremy Lin at a training camp in Taiwan in 2015, they had a quick chat about the game.
“He did not know me before,” Benson said. “He told me to lower my dribble and practice more on my floaters. Obviously they’ll become my focus this year.”
Benson acknowledged some pressure that come with comparisons to the Nets point guard, but he can joke about the hype. Jeremy Lin isn’t even Benson’s favorite player.
“[Jeremy] can be in my top 10, though,” said Benson, whose favorite player is Manu Ginobili — which helps to explain that Euro step.
It’s not the first time the “Next Jeremy Lin” label has been plopped on a young, talented Asian basketball player since Linsanity hit Madison Square Garden five years ago. Before Benson Lin, there was Chris Tang.
A native of Jiangsu province in eastern China, Tang decided to come to the U.S. for basketball at an early age and once caused a stir on powerhouse Oak Hill’s roster.
After one year at University of California, Riverside, Tang did a brief stint in the NBA D-League but was not selected in the 2016 NBA draft. The 6-3 guard is now playing for Yao Ming‘s Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association.
Tang’s route is something of a cautionary tale, but if the “Next Jeremy Lin” label — pressure-packed, audacious and unfair for most teenagers — bounces to Benson Lin in full, it sounds like he might be ready for it.
“It’s a privilege to Benson,” Meddings said of the Jeremy Lin comparisons. “He’s works hard, he’s confident but not cocky. So the comparison won’t affect him.
“But to be honest with you, I don’t think it’s fair to call him the next Jeremy Lin. It can bring more attention to Benson, which I think is fine, but I really think Benson is just going to be himself.”