John Clay: Kentucky's Teague listens, learns, thrives

UK's Teague shows he's getting the point

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 8, 2012 

Marquis Teague had no idea what people were saying about him.

"Only reason I found out was because Coach Cal told me," he said Saturday.

Coach Cal being John Calipari, of course, the man who broke the awful, terrible news to Kentucky's freshman point guard.

Halfway through Teague's rookie season, the caustic critics with their itchy trigger fingers were already labeling last year's No. 1 prep point guard as a collegiate disappointment.

Not that Calipari agreed, mind you.

"He's playing in Kentucky, for the second-ranked team in the country, that probably could easily be undefeated, and everybody's saying he's a disappointment," said the coach on Saturday just after his Cats opened SEC play by swatting away visiting South Carolina 79-64.

"What are you talking about? The kid is doing fine."

But, then:

"Now I expect more out of him," said Calipari, "but you shouldn't."

Laughter.

"I'm coaching him."

We're just the ones watching Teague, and analyzing Teague, and comparing Teague to his star-studded predecessors, like Brandon Knight, and John Wall, and even Tyreke Evans (Calipari point guard star at Memphis) and Derrick Rose (the Calipari point guard star at Memphis who got this point guard roll of all rolls started).

So far, anyway, Teague hadn't quite measured up to those ridiculously unrealistic measurements.

His perimeter shooting has been off target. He turned it over too much. He sometimes appeared to be more concerned with his own point total than his more altruistic responsibilities as a point guard. He was playing like, well, a freshman.

The problem is we are not used to John Calipari's freshman point guards playing like freshmen.

Ah, but Saturday, in the Cats' SEC opener, the Indianapolis native took one giant step toward being the point guard both Calipari and the fans want.

He scored a career-high 17 points, hitting six of 10 shots, including his only three-point attempt. He was four-of-five from the free throw line. He had four assists, two turnovers one steal.

The point guard was on point.

"Yeah," said a smiling Teague afterward. "This probably was my best overall game so far."

What made it so?

"I was just slowing it down more," he said, "looking to get my teammates involved more."

Not that Teague has played badly, mind you.

"Here he is, he's a freshman," said Calipari. "He's played in 16 college games, 15 before this game. Because he wasn't playing perfect — he had 4.5 assists and three turnovers. That ain't bad. And if he passed it a couple of more times, he'd be averaging six assists and three turnovers which is perfect."

But for this team to get where it and its fans want to go, the Cats need a point guard who is better than "ain't bad."

This team doesn't need a Brandon Knight, who carried so much of last year's scoring load. It doesn't need a John Wall, whose outrageous talent comes along only so often.

It needs a point guard who complements his teammates, who takes the points when they come, and does what his coach wants.

"He's started listening," said UK center Anthony Davis. "And when he starts listening, great things start to happen. He was listening during the press attack, bringing the ball up, to what Coach Cal wanted him to do. He's starting to listen and he's starting to get open shots."

Indeed, Calipari had said that if Teague does the other things he is supposed to do, the scoring thing will work out, too.

"Yeah," said Teague, "I was just trying to do whatever he told me to do, run the team and not turn the ball over and it was successful for me."

That Marquis Teague meets expectations every time.

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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