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The memory is as clear for Josh Akognon as if it happened yesterday, and it should be, considering it's Jeremy Lin in the memory. Yes, that Jeremy Lin, the toast of the NBA, the player Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg shows up to watch, the one President Obama announces he is following closely.

It's last September and Lin is driving hard and makes a shot in a Chinese Basketball Association game in DongGuan, China.

On the bench, Akognon, the former Casa Grande High star and Lin's DongGuan teammate, yells, "There you go! There you go!"

While running back on defense, a grinning Lin yells back at Akognon, "Thank you! Thank you!"

This exchange was repeated over and over and by halftime Lin had 16 points. Akognon must have felt proud. Much had been accomplished in such a short period of time. See, it was just the day before that Lin had 10 points by half but then suddenly stopped shooting.

"I don't want to feel it was my fault if we lose," Lin told Akognon.

Lin asked Akognon after that game how he kept his confidence if his shots aren't falling. Lin picked the right man to ask. Akognon is becoming a basketball legend in China, having just finished DongGuan's 32-game regular season with a 27.4 points-per-game average.

Akognon responded: "You are playing mind games with yourself. Stop that. If the coach tells you to stop shooting, stop. But if he doesn't, he is telling you he has enough confidence in you that you'll come around and start hitting your shots. You shoot shots like this 10,000 times in a summer."

Don't worry. Be happy. Keep shooting. So, the next day, in that second game, Lin didn't stop shooting, thanked Akognon after every bucket and began his ascendancy to where he is today — the most-discussed player in the NBA.

Last September, with the NBA still in a lockout, Lin came to China to find some solutions for his shattered confidence. Lin had spent his rookie year with the Golden State Warriors and had been given as much respect as a paperweight.

"If he made a turnover," Akognon said by phone from China, "Jeremy was afraid he'd be taken out right then. Or be sent down to the &‘D' (development) league right away. It was unimaginable the stuff what Jeremy went through."

DongGuan's coach, Brian Goorjian, is a highly respected basketball mind. Lin thought he might find help there. He did. Better still, Lin found Akognon, in the most serendipitous of ways. Back in September, in the team's locker room, Akognon was listening to Christian rap music. The music was very loud. Having just arrived, Lin was walking through the locker room, not knowing a soul, when he heard the music.

"Is that Lecrae?" Lin asked Akognon.

Akognon nodded and thus began a moment that led to this: Akognon and Lin have become fast friends.

"We started talking about our faith," Akognon said, "and then we started talking about everything else. The bus taking us to the games was about a 45-minute ride one-way.

Jeremy and I would talk on the way to the game and on the way back from the game. We would talk at the arena before the game, during the game and after the game. We'd talk about money, God, NBA contracts, overhyped players, things said about us, everything.

"Jeremy played four games for us before he left. So I guess that's 6, 7, 8 hours of conversation."

Akognon seems like the only person in the universe not stunned at Lin's talent and success — Lin led the forlorn New York Knicks on a recent seven-game winning streak, averaging at least 20 points a game.

"I'm not surprised," Akognon said. "All he needed was the opportunity."

Out of desperation, actually, Lin was given that opportunity in New York. He responded with headline-grabbing performances.

"Now I am waiting, like everyone else," Akognon said, "to see what happens when Carmelo Anthony returns."

Anthony is the injured Knicks superstar coming back from an injury. How well will Anthony fit with Lin? Can Anthony share the spotlight or will he grab it from Lin, effectively shutting out this 23-year-old and his feel-good story?

"And If Anthony comes back," Akognon said, "and they start to lose again ...

"Jeremy gives you what most superstars don't give you. He's humble," Akognon said. "It's hard not to like him because he is so genuine."

Whether Lin continues to light it up or falls back to the D-League will not change Akognon's relationship with him. You don't have to know someone for a year to know if this is a buddy forever. Only four days in China, and they were very full days, has sealed a friendship. When the season is over, Lin will visit the Akognons, probably in Petaluma, because he wants to see how Akognon's 18-month-old son, Josiah, is doing.

"We exchanged numbers when he left China," Akognon said. "But I haven't talked to him recently. I want to leave him alone. Everybody wants to talk to him. He's like a rock star, I have been told."

No, actually, he's probably bigger than that.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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