John Clay: Kentucky in good hands with Teague behind the wheel

Freshman has skills to drive Cal's offense

jclay@herald-leader.comNovember 17, 2011 

NEW YORK — It is as if he's been handed the keys to a powerful Maserati, just off the assembly line. Only here's the thing: Marquis Teague just procured his license.

Sometimes, as a new driver, Kentucky's point guard can be reckless.

Tuesday night's first half was just such a time. The stage was big. The lights were bright. No. 12 Kansas was the opponent. And Teague nearly ran the car right off the road, committing six turnovers — "six turns" Coach John Calipari called them — four in the first three minutes.

"He said it was the officials," Calipari said afterward with a verbal roll of the eyes.

And then, as happened in the second half, Kentucky's point guard can make it all look so easy.

He played 17 of the game's final 20 minutes, scoring 11 points, dishing out three assists. Not once did he turn the ball over. And after being knotted 28-28 at the half, Kentucky rolled to a 75-65 win in the inaugural Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.

This, mind you, was Marquis Teague's second college game.

But then that's the way it is when you are a Calipari point guard. Much is given, much is expected.

At 6-foot-2, Teague is not as big as Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bull who started Calipari's run of one-and-done superstars at the point. Teague is not as long and lean as Tyreke Evans, Rose's successor under Calipari at Memphis.

Teague is not as quick as John Wall, the centerpiece of Calipari's first Kentucky recruiting class, but then there are few humans on the planet who can handle a basketball and move as quickly as John Wall.

Teague is not the shooter that is Brandon Knight, the Florida native who was Wall's successor at point but whose game was totally different. Where Wall learned to score while distributing and running the offense, Knight learned to distribute and run the offense while scoring.

That's what Cal needed from Knight. He doesn't need that from Teague. Kentucky has its array of weaponry.

Teague is more the traditional point guard. He's the pilot. This could be 1978 and he could be Kyle Macy, the new kid surrounded by vets — these days sophomores qualify as veterans — and bubbling new blood. Only he's among the new (blue) blood.

Macy had the All-America face and the nerves of steel. Joe B. Hall may be Big Blue Nation's favorite uncle now. He was an intense coach back then. Macy, a newcomer to the program having transferred in from Purdue, handled the demands and kept the Cats in stride.

Teague could do the same. Behind an easy smile is a true grit and the mental toughness to bounce back. He's from a basketball family. Brother Jeff plays for the NBA's Hawks. (Or did.) He knows how to roll with the roller coaster.

You have to be a tough kid to step into a situation where you know you are going to be so closely compared with your outstanding predecessors.

Teague could not have played better in UK's exhibition annihilation of poor Morehouse last week. Then on Friday, after a slow start against Marist, Calipari was in his point guard's grill after the game.

"I've coached point guards before, the ones that listen to me do fine," Calipari said post-game after UK beat Marist. "So just listen to what I'm saying and stop arguing with me and just do what I'm asking you to do."

After Teague's turnover-filled first half Tuesday night, some coaches would have switched gears in the second half. That's not Cal's way. He yells. He screams. But he sends you back out there to learn on the floor.

What Teague learned in New York City will help him, and his team, in Knoxville and Gainesville and Starkville down the road — in a vehicle that Calipari knows his freshman point guard has more than enough skill to drive.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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