LEXINGTON — He went from what Kentucky coach John Calipari deemed “shaky” early in the season to perhaps UK’s key player in Final Four wins over Louisville and Kansas and that’s why Marquis Teague is headed for the NBA rather than returning for a sophomore season with the Cats.
He’s expected to be the fifth straight point guard — Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Brandon Knight were the others — to become a first-round pick.
Teague led the Wildcats in assists this season with 191, ranking second in the SEC in assists per game (4.8). He finished the season with the second-most assists by a freshman in UK history, and his 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play was the best by a UK point guard under head coach John Calipari in the last three seasons. Over the last 22 games, he finished with a 2.2 ratio.
He also averaged 10 points per game and shot 41 percent from the field and 71 percent at the foul line.
It was his defense, understanding of the pace and ability to control the offense that turned Teague into a player Calipari expects to have a successful
“We won those last two games in large part because of how Teague played,” Calipari said Tuesday night when all UK’s starters confirmed they were leaving for the NBA. “Assist-to-turnover ratios, and let me tell you something, in the pick-and-roll defense and offensively, the courage to make shots and not be afraid, the athleticism and speed. I say he’s got (San Antonio Spurs guard) Tony Parker speed. So, he also has improved from the beginning to the end. All these guys have.”
Teague thanked the UK¿fans and coaches, including assistant Kenny Payne for the treadmill workouts, for making his one year at UK special.
Here are other thoughts he shared after the press conference announcing his decision:
Question: Is it a relief to have this decision over?
Teague: “I have been thinking about it all day. It just a relief really to get it off my chest. It is just something we have all been thinking about all day. A few days after the championship game we all talked about it and talked to the coaches and our parents and all decided that is what we wanted to do.”
Question: But why was this a hard decision after winning a national title and being projected as a first-round pick?
Teague: “It was a real tough decision.¿Playing with unselfish guys that you just grow to love like brothers, it is hard to walk away from that. Playing for coach Cal has been great all year. We learned so much under him and just had a great time this year. And the fan support here is crazy. It’s just hard to let that go, so it was a tough decision.”
Question: Does this mean you have to be more grown up now?
Teague: “You have to grow up now. It’s time. But it was a tough choice really.”
Question: What kind of role did your mom play in this decision?
Teague: “She played a huge role. She talked to me, calling me every day, maybe two times a day, just to make sure I was not overthinking anything and worrying about it too much. She just tried to keep my mind away from it as much as possible until I¿really had to decide. But she told me she felt like I was ready and she was comfortable with my decision. She was ready the whole way.”
Question: Did your brother, Jeff, who plays for the Atlanta Hawks impact your decision?
Teague: “He didn’t talk to me a lot, but he talked to me. He let me know how it felt and that I accomplished a lot this year and played great down the stretch. I had a pretty good year and won a national championship as a freshman, so he felt like I was ready.”
Question: What sold you on this being the best choice for you?
Teague: “I talked to my parents and coach Cal and they felt I did enough this year where I could be a first-round draft pick. Coach Cal just told me I¿did a good job, won a championship and led the team. I just felt comfortable with what I was hearing and this was my time.”
Question: Do you still remember those early season struggles, especially with turnovers?
Teague: “It has been a very long time since then, but it also went by fast. I¿had fun and enjoyed myself all year.”
Question: Were there any reasons you considered to maybe come back to UK¿for your sophomore year?
Teague: “I talked about coming back. I weighed both my options. We all did. There was a strong possibility any of us could have come back, but we all felt like we were ready and we did enough.”
Question: Do you plan to finish the semester academically?
Teague: “We are all going to finish out school. We all have been doing great this year. We wanted to leave on a good note and finish out the semester for coach Cal and this program.”
Question: What made this team so close?
Teague: “Just from day one we had a special bond and felt like brothers. We all treated each other with respect and just had fun being around each other. We loved playing together and that just made it that much easier to get along.”
Question: Why did all five of you decide to announce together?
Teague: “We all kind of just said it. Terrence said it first but we were all like, ‘That’s a good idea. We have been doing this thing together all year, so let’s finish it that way.’ We just decided that was the right thing to do.”
Question: Would it be exciting to play against your teammates in the NBA?
Teague: “It would be fun to play against them, but I¿love playing with them a lot more. Me and Michael were talking about if we were on the same team that would be fun. We already know how to play together and that would be something we would love to do.”
Question: Did you get more attached to the Kentucky fans than you anticipated?
Teague: “I love the fans in Kentucky. They support you so much. ¿You look in the crowd at an away game and it’s full of Kentucky fans. We have more fans than the other team. It’s like a home game. That just shows how much they love and support us. I¿knew the fans were crazy here and heard stuff from other players, but actually seeing it is totally different. You have to experience it.”
Question: Are the fans what you will miss the most about Kentucky?
Teague: “I will miss the fans, but more than anything I will miss playing with these guys and coach Cal.¿It is just a brotherhood that we created. It’s just hard to let go, but we all know we have to move on. But I¿will miss playing with these guys.”
Question: Ever any consideration among the five starters to all coming back like Florida’s players did a few years ago after winning a national title and trying to win another championship?
Teague: “It just felt like it was the best decision for us and our families to go to the next level. We felt like we did enough this year just winning the national championship and playing and having fun as a team. We talked to coach Cal and just felt it was time. We wasn’t scared if we came back that we would lose or anything like that. We just were more comfortable leaving now and felt this was the best decision for us.”
Question: How much confidence did playing against NBA players who came to Lexington last summer give you and your teammates?
Teague: “It helped a lot and gave us a lot of confidence. Having success against guys at that level and playing just as well as they were — now they were a lot better than we were — but we had success against them and we knew if play against them that we could play against college players and that’s what we did.”
Question: What advice would you have for the incoming recruits who will be trying to follow a national championship team?
Teague: “Just come in and be prepared to work hard every day. At Kentucky, there are no days off. This team came to practice every day. We never had a bad practice. Never. Someone always get everybody energized. People never came in the gym sluggish and not wanting to be there. We came ready to work and why we had so much success this year.”
Question: What are your thoughts on Rod Strickland leaving the staff to join Larry Brown’s coaching staff at SMU?
Teague: “He couldn’t help us as much as he wanted to because of (NCAA) restrictions on his job. But we all know Rod and what he did as a player. We just couldn’t get as much help from him because of that rule. But we have known Strick for a while. He couldn’t even talk to us on the bench.”