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Jeremy Lin optimistic about future with Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets' Jeremy Lin speaks to The Charlotte Observer

Jeremy Lin, the Charlotte Hornets' newest player, speaks to The Charlotte Observer's Tom Sorensen
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Jeremy Lin, the Charlotte Hornets' newest player, speaks to The Charlotte Observer's Tom Sorensen

Jeremy Lin and Brandyn Curry grabbed dinner Sunday night at the EpiCentre. It was Lin’s second dinner of the evening. His first was with Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

Lin is a lean 6-foot-3, and lean has to be earned. This wasn’t about the food; this was about the company. Curry, a former Hopewell High star, began his freshman year at Harvard as Lin began his senior year. By the end of the season, they started together in the backcourt.

Who paid for dinner?

Lin laughs.

“I did,” he says Monday after his introductory news conference at Time Warner Cable Arena. “That’s my guy. He’s a great, great guy, so I’ve got to take care of him. We’ve kept in touch. He’s playing in Germany next year. I asked him to let me know when he’s in town.”

Lin, who turns 27 next month, is Charlotte’s only free-agent offseason signing. He’ll back up point guard Kemba Walker as well as share the backcourt with him.

Because of the attention Lin collects, there’s a tendency to forget that Walker can play. Lin isn’t loud; he doesn’t demand to be noticed. Yet if there were an award for publicity generated by a backup point guard, he’d be an annual favorite.

You know his resume. Undrafted out of Harvard, played in the Development League, spent time on the NBA’s margins and periphery. And then, in 2011-12, he became one of the sport’s least likely stars. Linsanity, his remarkable season with the New York Knicks, was less the story of a player than it was a cause.

Lin says Monday that if at the end of his career he is known for Linsanity he probably didn’t do his job.

“It was baptism by fire,” he tells me after the news conference. “You grow up and learn on the fly. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I learned the tough lessons and the highs and the lows, and it was a special time for me and my family. In a lot of ways it helped me establish myself of being able to play in the NBA – which I didn’t know if it was a reality up until that point.”

Linsanity expired after one season. But fans remember. As he and Curry ate dinner Sunday, a man approached.

Says Lin: “He said, ‘Welcome to the Queen City. I’m on the phone with my girlfriend. Do you want to talk to her?’ ”

Lin says fans in Charlotte haven’t asked for an autograph or a picture.

“Everybody says, ‘Welcome, we’re glad to have you,’ or ask a question,” Lin says. “I’m blown away by how nice everybody is.”

If this continues, Charlotte will be the model for a new breed of enlightened fan.

Lin’s heritage is Chinese, and he offers a basketball-loving people one more reason to get excited about the sport.

Do you feel as if you represent the community?

“I definitely think there’s an element, and it brings a little more attention or is a little more captivating because of my ethnicity or whatever,” says Lin, who sits on the edge of the stage on which the news conference was held. “That’s something I’ve always taken seriously in terms of trying to do things the right way or use the platform the right way. I’ve tried my best to not ever take for granted the amount of people who support me. And what that looks like.

“So I always try to remind myself how unique a situation it is. Because sometimes when you’re living it every day you forget that, ‘Man, this is so special.’ ”

Can Lin be special? He says he had a conversation with Clifford about how he’ll be used and adds that such conversations didn’t always take place with previous employers.

Lin says he has improved in the facets of his game that were criticized when he was a Knick. He says turnovers are down and shooting percentage is up, that he goes much more deftly to his left and plays better defense.

He plans to be aggressive, charging to the hoop and trying to create shots for teammates.

To listen to Lin and Clifford talk Monday is to feel good about the coming together of this coach and this player.

“I think one thing that I want to do is kind of see how close I can get to reaching my full potential,” says Lin. “I think in order to do that it takes a lot of work on my end. It also takes finding the right situation, the right coach, the right system. I think this is a huge step in the right direction.

“I don’t know what my limit is. I don’t know how good I can be. But my goal is to find out.”

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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