Where Are All The Asian-American Basketballers?

Quick, name an Asian-American basketball player. Yao Ming? Yi Jianlian? Wrong, they’re full-on Chinese. And that’s the point. Only 0.4 percent of men’s college basketball players are Asian-American.

Jeremy Lin

According to the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, there were only 19 Asian-American players in Division I basketball in 2006-07, far out of line with the 4.4 percent population of the country (that’s a third of the African-American population.) Is it a case of the kids not going into the game, or is there discrimination?“It’s a sport for white and black people,” says Jeremy Lin, the starting point guard for (where else?) Harvard. “You don’t get respect for being an Asian American basketball player in the U.S.”

After Palo Alto High won the Division II state title in 2006, Lin’s senior season, he was named first-team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year. He was The Chronicle’s Metro Player of the Year. Considering those honors and his senior stats - 15.1 points, 7.1 assists, 6.2 rebounds and five steals - Lin thought he’d get at least a few Division I scholarship offers.He got none.“I’m not saying top-5 state automatically gets you offers,” Lin said, “but I do think (my ethnicity) did affect the way coaches recruited me. I think if I were a different race, I would’ve been treated differently.”

It’s the same story in the coaching ranks. In a year that has seen the Mariners hire Don Wakamatsu and the Heat hire Filipino-American Erik Spoelstra, there are only two Asian American head coaches in Divisions I and II, and Rex Walters at the University of San Francisco is only half Japanese (Jeff Hironaka is coach at Seattle Pacific).

Hironaka has interviewed in vain for Division I jobs.“I was told they needed to hire an African-American, and another school said they needed to hire a Caucasian,” Hironaka said. “I’m not one or the other, so then I’m out.“I understand assistant coaches you have to recruit - most (players) are Caucasian - so they ask, ‘What can you help us do? Recruit Asians?’”