Was there ever a question Marquis Teague could take his place among the elite point guards coached the last four seasons by Kentucky’s John Calipari?
If there was, there shouldn’t have been. Teague has had no shortage of mentors to help him along the way. His success was virtually guaranteed.
First there’s his father, Shawn Teague, who played point guard for Rick Pitino at Boston University and groomed his two sons in the fine art of playing the position from the time they were old enough to dribble a basketball.
“Drills,” Marquis Teague said about his upbringing in Indianapolis. “Lots and lots of drills.”
Next there’s Teague’s older brother Jeff, a former Wake Forest star now plying his trade for the Atlanta Hawks. The brothers talk or text almost daily, Jeff usually offering a critique of Marquis’ performances.
Finally, there’s Calipari, who’s built a closet industry out of finding the best high school point guards in the country, handing them the controls to his teams and then grooming them—make that converting them—into first-rate facilitators.
That isn’t to suggest that Calipari’s young charges have been hesitant to share the ball—far from it. But from Memphis and Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans to Kentucky and John Wall, Brandon Knight and now Teague, every point guard in Calipari’s program was a big-time scorer in high school. The transition from scoring first and passing second to vice versa is never easy, even for elite players. Sometimes it has taken a Calipari point guard of recent vintage until February to see the light. But see the light they do.
Such has been the case with Teague, who possesses all the requisite point guard skills. Like the other Cal-coached point guards before him—even D. Rose and Wall—there was an adjustment period.
“He’s getting better,” Calipari said. “It takes time. He averaged 28 points a game in high school. He started the season thinking he was going to score 32 a game here. And then he understood he couldn’t play that way, he’s got to play like a point guard.
“And the last month he has really focused and listened and practiced hard. And now all of a sudden he’s transformed into what one of our typical point guard plays like.”
Teague’s numbers clearly illustrate the path his season has taken. There was a stretch from late November to late December where Teague averaged double-figure shot attempts. Even as late as the start of Southeastern Conference games, Teague was still struggling with the adjustment. Against South Carolina, Auburn and Tennessee, Teague averaged 10 shots a game and handed out seven assists against 10 turnovers.
Not surprisingly, the Wildcats were pushed late into the second half at Auburn and Tennessee.
More recently, Teague’s numbers indicate a gradual understanding of his primary function. In a three-game stretch that included crucial victories over Florida and Vanderbilt, Teague averaged just eight shots while handing out 26 assists and committing nine turnovers.
In a surprisingly easy win over Florida, Teague outdueled his more experienced counterpart, Erving Walker, with 12 points and 10 assists. The way Gator coach Billy Donovan saw it, even the five turnovers Teague committed were errors of aggression, much more palatable to a coach than errors of passivity.
“He’s got great speed and quickness,” Donovan said. “He knows where the ball needs to go. I thought that was a matchup that probably really hurt us when you look at Teague versus Walker [who scored no points and handed out just one assists]. That was something that was a big difference in the game. [Teague] had five turnovers, but I think some of his turnovers were trying to make the right play. But he also had 10 assists.”
Teague wasn’t nearly as sharp in the Wildcats’ win at Mississippi State on Feb. 21, but again, an opposing coach came away impressed.
“Teague is good and has gotten better as the year has gone on,” Bulldog coach Rick Stansbury said. “He’s really quick on defense and has got better offensively. Everything has gotten better for him. Everything.”
Teague acknowledges that his transition was difficult.
“I’m playing on a team with guys that can really score,” Teague said. “I’ve got to find them and get them the ball. Coach Cal has told me to pick and choose when I get my shots. Toward the end of the shot clock, then it’s OK to make a play for myself and get to the rim.
“But my job is to try and create for these guys and get them easy buckets.”
With high flyers like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist around, it hasn’t been too hard for Teague to rack up assists.
“It’s a lot of fun playing with those guys,” Teague said. “You can even throw them a bad pass, and they’ll still catch it and finish. They can do some amazing things.”
As good as Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist have been, ask any coach that has played Kentucky which freshman will be the biggest key to how far the Wildcats can advance in March, and the answer might be Teague.
Calipari knows only too well how far a talented point guard can take a team. In 2008 behind Rose, Memphis came within two minutes of the national championship, though that season was later stripped from the record book after the NCAA found issues with Rose’s academic eligibility. In Calipari’s first two seasons, Kentucky advanced to the Elite Eight behind Wall and the Final Four with Knight running the offense.
Calipari, who first targeted Teague as an ideal point guard candidate nearly three years ago, has been pleased how well the freshman has performed despite having to follow such tough acts.
“He’s very coachable,” Calipari said. “And he’s tough. I call him a bulldog. He’s absolutely a bulldog. I have so much confidence in him as a player. I did when I saw him as a sophomore. I looked at this kid and said ‘oh my gosh.’ Size, athleticism, smart. … But it’s hard [making the adjustment from high school]
“I had Tyreke Evans score 40 a game in high school—I had to make him a point guard. John Wall scored 26 a game in high school, and you try to make him a point guard. That’s a hard deal for those guys. They’re used to scoring. That’s the first thing. They’re got to get out of that mode. And [Teague] has.”