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With two players in Asia, Nets commit to NBA priority

Caris LeVert is in India with Basketball Without Borders and Jeremy Lin is in Taiwan on the first of his Asian “sharing tours,” both examples of how the Nets are in the forefront of the NBA’s “next frontier” strategy in Asia.

LeVert and Lin’s trips may be more personal choices, but their presence in high-profile venues shows (again) that the organization is putting down roots exactly where the NBA thinks the soil is most fertile for international expansion.

Brooklyn has long been committed to the NBA’s Asia strategy and now with the arrival of Joe Tsai as minority owner, it’s likely to grow even more.

“I came to Asia last year for Jeremy Lin’s camp, and I thought it was cool. I wanted to come back to Asia and explore other parts,” LeVert said in a conference call from New Delhi Friday. “So when the opportunity presented itself this was definitely something I wanted to do for sure, especially help out with the kids.”

LeVert has been in the Indian capital for the past three days along with Nets assistant coach Bret Brielmaier, working with Indian kids, both boys and girls, part of the league’s BWB program. It’s aimed at raising the profile of basketball in the cricket-mad country.

Earlier this week, timed no doubt with the arrival of LeVert and other NBA stars, the Times of India announced a digital deal to deliver game highlights and produce original programming for fans in India through India Times Lifestyle network that reaches more than 45 million unique visitors each month.

The league has made some inroads in the world’s second largest population, setting up an NBA Academy in New Delhi, but only five million Indians play basketball compared to 300 million Chinese and there are few if any NBA-ready arenas on the subcontinent.

Some players are well-known among those who do play. “When I say the name Jeremy Lin, their faces light up,” LeVert said.

Indeed, Lin with his Chinese heritage, is the third most popular NBA name in Greater China —the People’s Republic, Hong Kong and Taiwan— after LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Lin began his first “sharing tour” of the region this weekend, arriving at dawn two days ago to be greeted by a crowd of more than 200 fans, many dressed in Nets gear or holding it up in hopes of having a Lin autograph.

Like LeVert, Lin was working with youngsters Friday with a local sponsor, the Formosa Dreamers, a local pro team. On his first day in Taiwan, he visited Changhua, his father’s hometown, and ran a camp for high school and elementary school students. He also donated 100 basketballs to three schools in the city. Lin emphasized the students’ need to be academically committed ... and have confidence.

The Nets guard noted his his own experience of being doubted when he first arrived on the NBA scene, that many fans didn’t believe an Asian-American could play basketball at high level.

”People would laugh at us and say your too skinny, your too short, you shouldn’t play basketball in the United States, there’s no way you will make it into the NBA,” Lin said.

So when you pursue your dreams you need a lot of “self-confidence,” Lin added. Then on Saturday, Lin spoke to 6,000 people at the Hualien, where an earthquake struck last year. He spoke on both the need to pray for earthquake victims and his own struggle after blowing out his knee, showing pictures of his severely swollen knee taken after Opening Night.

Lin’s trip will be longer, more varied and more high profile than LeVert’s with a lot of TV and digital appearances. He’s also be pushing his new line of fragrances. He’ll be in Taiwan for a week, then will travel to Hong Kong for two speaking engagements next week, returning to Taiwan on June 9 to speak at a local university’s graduation ceremonies, according to local media.

He’ll be back in Asia at the end of next month for another “sharing tour,” this time with Spencer Dinwiddie. They’ll visit Guangzhou in southern China, home of former Net Yi Jianlian. (Lin was in Taiwan last month as well to watch his brother, Joe, play in the Taiwanese professional league championships.)

LeVert spoke Friday about Lin’s progress in rehabbing from the knee injury that kept him out the entire season.

“Jeremy, he’s been working out for the past couple of weeks. He’s been going full speed, I believe,” LeVert said. “We haven’t really done a lot of contact but he’s done pretty much all of the individual work we’ve done with coaches and things like that, and he looks good.”

The Nets 23-year-old also told reporters he expects to play a few games in the Las Vegas Summer League, now five weeks away.

Will the Nets return to Asia soon? They are, in Brett Yormark’s words, always the first to raise their hands when the NBA asks for volunteers to play overseas. The Nets played preseason games in China both in 2010 when still the New Jersey Nets, then again in 2014, stopping in Beijing and Shanghai both times.

Now, with Tsai, Taiwan-born and a resident of Hong Kong, as minority owner, it’s likely to happen again. The question is where and when.