Teague family at heart of hoops' little-man revolution
Nowadays, they come from Harvard and UCLA, the waiver wire and the lottery, Barcelona's beaches and John Calipari's factories. They can be as strong as safeties, like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, or as slender as receivers, like Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings. Pretty much every team has one, except the Lakers, and some have two, including the Clippers. Jeff Teague, of the Atlanta Hawks, is not often mentioned among the legion of transcendent point guards who have taken over the NBA. But the Teague family, as much as the Pauls and the Rondos and even the Lins, is at the heart of the little-man revolution.
Shawn Teague played point guard for Rick Pitino at Boston University, tried out with the Pacers and Warriors, and raised his sons to run a team even better than he did. Of course, to see the floor they couldn't be looking at the ball all the time, so he encouraged them to play in the backyard at night or turn off the lights in the gym and dribble in the dark. Shawn entered adult leagues in Indianapolis and dragged the boys along, letting Jeff play against 35-year-old men when he was only 13. "How do you compete when you're not as strong or as fast?" Shawn said. But Jeff didn't want to ponder those questions. He wanted to make wild reverse layups and join the And1 Streetball Tour. "I didn't like being on his team," Jeff said. "I thought he was too tough on me." His younger brother, Marquis, witnessed the clashes and opted for football.
Jeff is nearly five years older than Marquis and cannot remember ever playing one-on-one with him. But as Jeff was leaving Pike High School in Indianapolis, Shawn was taking Marquis to his adult-league games, starting the process over again. Jeff spent two years at Wake Forest, became an All-American, and a first-round pick by the Hawks in 2009. Marquis became the most vaunted point guard in last year's recruiting class and the latest tabbed by Calipari.
All five Kentucky starters are likely first-round draft picks, with center Anthony Davis the probable No. 1 overall, and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist not far behind. Whether Marquis enters the draft after this season, his first matchup with Jeff is inevitable, and it will come in the NBA. "I think about it all the time," Jeff said. "It could be like Peyton Manning and Eli Manning."
Obviously, they have a long way to go, but Peyton is also five years older than Eli and the dynamic is similar. Jeff spent part of the lockout at Kentucky, practicing with Marquis, and helping him adjust to college life. He gets the tape of every Wildcats game from his older brother, Shawn Jr., since he is often too nervous to watch them live. When Kentucky beat Vanderbilt last week, Jeff shot Marquis a congratulatory text. When the Hawks were blown out by the Heat the next day, Marquis sent Jeff a sympathetic one.
Jeff did not emerge as quickly as his point-guard peers, in part because he had to wait his turn. As a rookie, he sat behind Mike Bibby until Game 82, when he scored 24 points with 15 assists in 48 minutes. He hoped to start the following season, but Bibby beat him out again, and when Bibby was traded, Kirk Hinrich was acquired in the deal to replace him. "I'd see the other point guards and think, 'I can play with them,'" Teague said. "But what happened was the best thing for me. In high school and college, I just scored. I had to learn the pick-and-roll, learn how to get the ball to guys when they needed it." He had to review the lessons his father first instilled.
Last March, Teague came off the bench to score 20 points against Chicago, and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau told his team this wiry backup point guard would haunt them in the playoffs. Chicago sidestepped Atlanta in the second round, but with Hinrich injured, Teague put up more than 20 in three of the games. He was rewarded with the starting job this season and is averaging 12.5 points and 4.7 assists, as the Hawks hover around the top of the Eastern Conference even without center Al Horford.
Eventually, it seems like every NBA team will have a hotshot point guard. They are coming from all over the place, and on occasion, from the exact same place. Shawn's backcourt mate at Boston University was a gunner named Drederick Irving, who tried out with the Celtics and played professionally in Australia, where he had a baby boy named Kyrie. Drederick parked the stroller next to the bench. When the family settled in New Jersey, Drederick was as tough on Kyrie as Shawn was on Jeff, putting him through Mikan drills in the backyard and teaching him how to spin layups off a cracked backboard. Now, Kyrie Irving is the starting point guard in Cleveland and the favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Marquis is just a freshman, so he may stick around Calipari's lab for some more semesters. But if he is like Irving and Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall, he will be gone by spring, matched up against his brother come fall. In a NBA arena, the Teague brothers will do what they never did under the stars in their Indianapolis backyard: go one-on-one.