By KEVIN CLARK
Travis Pinick's Ivy League basketball career never earned him much notice around the office. Until this week, that is, when former Harvard player Jeremy Lin became the world's most talked-about athlete.
Suddenly, Mr. Pinick is an office celebrity. His Yale squad twice held Mr. Lin to four points or fewer. It helps that Mr. Pinick's office is in Los Angeles, whose hometown Lakers were stunned last week by Mr. Lin's 38-point performance for the New York Knicks.
"They are surprised," Mr. Pinick said of colleagues at a cyber-defense contractor. "They say, 'He just had 38 points on the Lakers and you held him to four?' "
In rarefied citadels of commerce around the U.S., a sports phenomenon dubbed Linsanity is reflecting sudden glory on Ivy League basketball players, whose greatest athletic achievements often unfolded in half-empty arenas, ignored by TV, pro scouts and the prospect of postseason play.
Before Mr. Lin, the last Harvard player to break the ranks of NBA pros was Ed Smith—in 1954.
But less than two years out of Harvard, Mr. Lin, a 23-year-old, lightning-quick point guard from Palo Alto, Calif., is reclaiming the Ivy League's athletic honor before a global audience. Mr. Lin, an Asian-American, appears on newspaper front pages and TV broadcasts in China and Taiwan, where dreams of the Ivy League usually center on academic prowess.
Ivy athletes traditionally have few bragging rights. So investment banking analyst Garrett Leffelman was surprised to find himself surrounded by 10 colleagues the Monday morning after Mr. Lin's big night against the Lakers.
Mr. Leffelman's Wall Street pals wanted to hear how he defended against Mr. Lin when Mr. Leffelman was a Brown University guard. Mr. Leffelman didn't choke. In March 2009, he told the rapt crowd, he held Mr. Lin to 10 points and, as the game clock ticked to zero, Mr. Leffelman launched a game-winning 3-pointer.
The story yielded this quick calculation from someone in the finance crowd: " 'Jeremy Lin outscored Kobe Bryant, you've outscored Jeremy Lin, so by default that makes you better than Kobe Bryant,' " Mr. Leffelman recounted. That, he said, led to next question: "So why'd you end up here?"
Unlike most Ivy Leaguers, Mr. Lin at first stalled in his career. He graduated from Harvard in 2010 with a degree in economics. No team in the National Basketball Association drafted him and two teams later dropped him.
He won a spot on the Knicks' roster, but it wasn't until earlier this month that the team gave him a shot at playing time after injuries left it little choice. Then, in three recent NBA games, Mr. Lin scored 27 points or more, including a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors. Among those talking about the shot on Wednesday was President Barack Obama during a trip from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base aboard Marine One, said press secretary Jay Carney. In Wednesday night's game at Madison Square Garden against Sacramento, he marked a personal best with 13 assists.
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Former Ivy League opponents point out Mr. Lin's collegiate career wasn't as spectacular as his recent performance with the Knicks. In four years playing for Harvard, Mr. Lin never scored more than 27 points in an Ivy League game.
Wall Street trader and Columbia University graduate Brett Loscalzo said people ask about his games against Mr. Lin. "Then the assumption is, 'He must have crushed you guys,' " he said. Actually, no. In a 2008 game, said Mr. Loscalzo, he helped contain Mr. Lin to six points.
NBA opponents might glean some valuable tips from past Ivy League players. Former Princeton forward Noah Savage, now in commercial real estate in Manhattan, recalled scouting reports saying to force Mr. Lin to dribble to his left, making it more difficult for him to employ his arsenal of moves.
Mr. Leffelman said his scouting report alleged that Mr. Lin could be rendered less effective with in-your-face defensive pressure. Mr. Leffelman said he was surprised that NBA defenders haven't done much of that.
"He's going up against a great caliber of players, but I haven't seen them all into his personal space," Mr. Leffelman said. "If you let him go full speed off a screen he's going to be clever and creative."
A Bench-Warmer's Star Run
Former Ivy League opponents said Mr. Lin was bringing "validation" to their collegiate careers. Mr. Lin's season "is something we can hang our hats on," said Mr. Loscalzo. "Jeremy is kind of leading the charge for the Ivy League."
In the recreational leagues where former Ivy Leaguers play, expectations are suddenly higher. Now that teammates know, for example, that Mr. Pinick held his own against the blooming NBA star, they are telling him he needs to work harder on defense.
High-school teacher and former Columbia guard Kevin Bulger also finds himself under new pressure during games in downtown Chicago. "They are saying 'You can hold Jeremy Lin down, but you can't guard a 35-year-old lawyer?' " he said.—Laura Meckler contributed to this article.
Write to Kevin Clark at email@example.com