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.