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Mon. February 13, 2012 | John C. Cotey | Email

Sunlake High School's Brenden HuynhNew York Knicks' Jeremy Lin

TRINITY — He takes a short pass from a teammate, sprints into the open court, head up, driving forward and looking.

Looking.

Looking.

When no one is open, he simply dips his left shoulder, shimmies past one last defender and blows to the hoop for a two-point finger roll.

The crowd applauds. His mom jumps to her feet and claps.

He’s Huynh-stoppable!

It’s Huynh-believable!

Dare we say it?

Huynh-sanity!

Brenden Huynh, a 16-year-old sophomore guard at Sunlake High School , chuckles at the suggestion.

“One day, maybe,” he says.

On this night Huynh, a Vietnamese-American, believes in one day more than ever. After all, it was just the night before that the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin, who has inflicted the basketball public with Linsanity after going from discarded to dominant in the span of a few weeks, scored 23 points and handed out 10 assists in his third NBA start.

And the next night, Lin would score 38 against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.

And the night after that? Twenty more points.

Unrecruited. Undrafted. Unbelievable.

“It’s amazing,” Huynh says.

But while the rest of the world is only discovering Lin now, he has been one of Huynh’s favorite players since he blew up in a D-League game against Washington’s John Wall and played a bit for the Golden State Warriors last season.

In the offseason, Lin was cut, then signed by Houston, then cut again and signed by New York.

Then he exploded.

Now Lin is Huynh’s favorite player for one very simple reason: He’s him.

For the first time ever watching an NBA game, he sees a little of himself on the television screen — an Asian-American basketball player who had to overcome obstacle after obstacle to make his dreams come true.

“It fills me with pride,” said Huynh, who doesn’t see many Asians among his hardwood peers.

In Pasco County, 2.1 percent of a population of roughly 465,000 is Asian, according to the 2010 census. Fewer play the game that Huynh says is his life.

“We always go to basketball tournaments and there are so many players there, and there are never any Asians,” said Minh Huynh, his father. “It’s kind of tough, but seeing Jeremy Lin making it, he thinks, 'I can dream too. If he made it, and I work hard, the window is open.’ ”

Minh knows all about windows opening. He was living in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay when his family escaped — a plan almost two years in the making — to the Philippines when he was 13.

Eventually, his family settled in North Plainfield, N.J., sponsored by a church, and he met future wife Long Vy, who had fled after Saigon fell in 1975, and they made a family.

Brenden was 8 when his family moved to Florida, and by then he had developed a love for the New Jersey Nets and Richard Jefferson.

He started playing basketball, while Minh, who preferred tennis, soccer and volleyball, started studying the game via videos and YouTube.

Minh says he is like most parents shaped by his experiences, a hard man who drives his kids hard in the classroom and demands perfection. But on the basketball court, where he helps coach Sunlake’s team, he and his son bond.

They don’t talk about school and expectations and rules, just pick-and-rolls, jump shots, the Nets.

And Lin.

“He tells me the other day, 'Dad, I want Jeremy Lin’s jersey,’ ” Minh said. “I said, 'Are you crazy? He’s a Knick!’ ”

Brenden wants Lin’s jersey, but he said he’ll look for the retro Golden State one.

His friends now provide him with daily Lin updates. They look at him differently.

“They know I love him,” he said.

Brenden, a straight-A student, says he’d like to attend UCLA — Lin is a Harvard graduate — and pursue a career in sports medicine.

And if he isn’t recruited anywhere to play basketball — he’s 5-foot-10, the team’s third-best scorer at 10.7 points a game and a born leader — and if no one ever drafts him in the NBA, and if he has to play minor-league hoops to get noticed, well, that’s fine too.

“The underdog,” he says, grinning. “But it gives me hope. I’m going to start working harder now. If you work hard, you can do anything.”

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com

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