By DAN KELLY
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — On a night when Linsanity returned to Madison Square Garden to hand the Knicks their first home loss of the season, Chris Copeland was the Knicks’ lone bright spot.
In his second career start, the 28-year-old rookie scored a career-high 29 points in the Knicks 109-96 loss to the Houston Rockets on a collection of long-range jumpers and scenic drives to the rim.
“I’ve always been confident in my game and I didn’t doubt this,” Copeland said after starting in place of the injured Carmelo Anthony (sprained ankle).
“[Copeland] was one of the bright spots tonight,” coach Mike Woodson said.
To Knicks fans, it may seem as if Copeland has come from nowhere, but he is no stranger to the scenic route. After a solid but unspectacular four-year career at the University of Colorado Copeland, embarked on a six-year odyssey to the NBA.
The journey began with the NBDL in Fort Worth Texas, followed by pro stints in Spain, then the Netherlands, then Germany, and then Belgium before he signed a one-year contract with the Knicks in July.
The NBA was never a destiny he knew he would realize. He wasn’t a highly ranked recruit in high school.
“I was nowhere near worth mentioning (in those rankings),” he said.
He never saw his name on any NBA mock drafts in college.
“I never actually pictured myself getting drafted,” he said.
“I was never a front-runner, ” Copeland added recently. “I’ve been an under-the-radar guy in every situation.”
At Hermitage High School in Henrico, Va., Copeland was strictly a post player who scored his points on jump hooks and drop steps. At Colorado, he turned into a pick-and-pop specialist. It wasn’t until 2008 when Copeland joined TBB Trier, a professional team in Trier Germany, that his game began to really evolve.
“Coaches saw me messing around playing one-on-one with guys and they said, ‘Well, why don’t you try that in games?'” Copeland recalled.
As a kid Copeland’s favorite players were Tracy McGrady and Penny Hardaway because they were taller guys who could put the ball on the floor.
“Growing up I always had a handle, but I was always a bigger kid so they put me on the block,” he said.
In Germany Copeland was finally encouraged to become a more dynamic scorer and he flourished.
The Knicks almost signed Copeland to a contract after his performance in the 2011 Vegas Summer League but he didn’t quite fit on the roster. He signed with a team in Belgium for the following season and became the Belgium League MVP.
In 2012 he came back to the Vegas Summer League and showed the Knicks that he was ready to be a consistent scoring threat.
“Thinking about being in the NBA makes me speechless,” he said. “I can’t put it into words, man, you know what I mean?”
After six wandering seasons around Europe, honing his skills, Copeland has arrived in the NBA. But he isn’t satisfied.
“I believe I have a lot more to show,” he said. “I believe I have a lot more that nobody here has seen yet.”
Asked whether he has any particular goals for his NBA career, Copeland responded, “I’m gonna have to keep those to myself. I heave really lofty goals. I’ll leave it at that.”
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Dan Kelly covers the Knicks, Nets and college basketball for brooklynfans.com. He has coached select teams, high school teams and individual players on the West Coast and in South America.