Story: Teague has big-league shoes to fill

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 14, 2011 

Marquis Teague has put on 17 pounds of muscle since coming to Kentucky. He figures to need it.

Is there any college athlete in the United States carrying more weight of expectation in 2011-12 than the 6-foot-2, 189-pound Indianapolis product?

Teague is the latest link in what has become college basketball's most glamorous chain, the John Calipari-coached line of point guards.

Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight.

That's two NBA No. 1 overall draft picks, two NBA Rookies of the Year, the reigning NBA MVP and four straight one-and-done point guards all selected in the top eight picks of NBA drafts.

This winter, Teague has to prove worthy of being next in line.

"There is some pressure," Teague said Thursday at UK men's basketball media day, "but I try not to look at it like that. I just want to come in and play my game."

If inheriting the Cal point-guard mantle weren't pressure enough, the circumstances of Teague's recruitment will also add to the scrutiny on him.

The former Pike High School guard is a Hoosier high school star who said no to Indiana to play for one of IU's biggest rivals. After he announced for UK, some Cream & Crimson backers let him hear their displeasure.

"They were on my Twitter, Facebook, everything," Teague said, smiling, of Indiana fans. "(They said) I'm a traitor. (Asked) How could you leave home? They were talking about 'Coach Cal is a cheater,' a lot of stuff. I can't wait to play them."

As unhappy as the Hoosiers were with Teague's exiting his home state, Louisville fans were even more upset when he picked Kentucky.

The guard's father, Shawn, played for U of L Coach Rick Pitino at Boston University in the 1980s. Because of that connection, it was considered by many a foregone conclusion that Marquis Teague would wear Louisville red in college.

When the guard instead chose Kentucky blue, the response of some U of L fans "was a little crazier (than the IU fans)," Teague says. "They said a lot of things I probably shouldn't say. They were pretty upset."

Of course, nobody gets angry about college decisions of players who can't play. Recruiting service Rivals ranked Teague the No. 5 player in the country for the 2011 class; Scout and ESPN both tabbed him No. 7.

Before a massive contingent of reporters gathered Thursday in the Memorial Coliseum media room, Calipari raved about Teague's willingness to follow instruction and the work he's done in the weight room.

Says Cal: "He looks like a pit-bull dog right now."

Just as Wall and Knight brought very different playing styles to the Kentucky point guard position the past two years, so the transition from Knight to Teague will be substantial.

Teague "is more of a driver, a go-past-you-off-the-dribble guy," says UK forward Terrence Jones. "Brandon was more of a shooter-type, a step-back guy."

Senior swingman Darius Miller says Teague "plays like a real point guard. He gets everybody involved. He knows when to pass it at the right times."

Ryan Harrow is sitting out at UK as a transfer this season after starting at point guard for North Carolina State last year. He says Teague already compares favorably to the guards he played against in the ACC.

"I think he's just as good as them. Or even better," Harrow said. "He's got a swagger about him."

One advantage Teague has that prior Calipari point guards didn't is the NBA lockout.

With the pros banned from NBA practice facilities, some are working out here in Lexington. That gives the current Cats a chance to play pickup games opposite some of the best players in the world. Teague recently found himself trying to guard Rajon Rondo, the Boston Celtics point guard and ex-Cat.

"Rondo is teaching me how to come off the pick-and-roll," Teague said. "He kept playing it this way, and it was confusing me. So he just stopped and was showing me what to do, basically."

After all the time he's spent in the weight room since coming to Lexington, Teague says he can tell a difference in his game.

"I can take bumps a lot better when I'm going to the basket against Terrence Jones and them," he said. "It's helped me finish a lot better."

Rose. Evans. Wall. Knight.

For the player carrying the load of expectation that comes with living up to the point-guard gold standard, that extra muscle should come in handy.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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