Before his freshman season even gets underway, Marquis Teague has shown he might already be there. In Kentucky's final tune-up before the regular season, Teague turned in a virtuoso performance, leading his team to a 51-6 lead with 6:36 remaining in the first half against Morehouse College without even taking a shot.
"What I said to him last game was he was really unselfish," head coach John Calipari said. "He didn't take a shot for the longest time in the game. Then the shots he took were either wide open jumpers or he just attacked the rim."
Now, just because Teague is able to direct the game without scoring doesn't mean he will. By the time the Morehouse game was over with, Teague had scored 12 points in just 17 minutes on the floor, but the visitors began by taking away his penetration, so Teague adjusted.
"He starts the first seven, eight minutes of the game and doesn't even look at the rim because they were trying to stop him from getting to the basket," Calipari said. "He's done what the team needs him to do."
Over UK's two exhibition outings, Teague has averaged 13.0 points and 8.0 assists against just 2.0 turnovers. Sure, the Wildcats will face a higher level of opponent as the season progresses, but Calipari likes what he's seen out of his latest first-year floor general.
"You just need that guy to be unselfish for our team to be unselfish," Calipari said. "He's been unselfish."
With yet another constellation of stars taking the Rupp Arena floor in 2011-12, beginning with a matchup against Marist at 7 p.m. Friday, Calipari is calling on Teague to set the tone. For UK to be a team that gets the most out of its talented parts, the Cats need to function as a team and it all begins with Teague. The Indianapolis, Ind., native recognizes all that is being asked of him, but he's unfazed.
"Everything starts with the point guard," Teague said. "I'm the leader of the team but I don't really look at it as pressure. I just want to go out and perform."
Even as the Wildcats went through a relative struggle in their first exhibition against Transylvania, Calipari singled out Teague for praise after the game for the way he ran the team. With that first game under his belt, he settled in even more his second time out.
"I was more comfortable running things," Teague said. "I didn't have to look to Coach Cal for plays and I was running things on my own sometimes."
Perhaps the signature play of UK's 125-40 win over Morehouse was a fast break Teague was involved in. Teague was ahead of the pack and sophomore forward Terrence Jones passed the ball ahead to him. Teague caught the ball in stride on the right side of the basket and had an opportunity to attempt a tough, running layup. Instead, Teague softly threw the ball off the backboard to Jones for a crowd-pleasing dunk.
"I could have laid it in," Teague said, "but I'm a point guard, I want to get my teammates involved first and make sure everybody's happy."
Calipari constantly preaches for his young team to make the "easy play" and while an off-the-backboard pass may not seem like the surest way to score, it actually may have been the highest percentage play in that situation.
"Coach Cal doesn't mind when we do things like that," Teague said. "He just wants to make sure we finish the play and score the ball."
Highlight reel fast breaks didn't constitute the extent of Teague's impact in the two exhibitions either. Along with fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Calipari looked to Teague as the anchor of UK's high-pressure, full-court defense that forced 26 Morehouse turnovers.
"On top of (his offense), he defends on the ball," Calipari said.
Teague had three steals in the exhibitions, demonstrating a physicality and intensity on defense that his predecessors John Wall and Brandon Knight may not have ever shown.
Comparing Teague to Wall or Knight at this stage in his career is natural, but it's also probably unfair. He hasn't gotten the chance to show what he's made of in the regular season yet, let alone on the big stage of the NCAA Tournament, where both Wall and Knight proved themselves when they were freshmen under Calipari.
"Until we're in a big-time game and the game's on the line and he gets the ball and we see how he reacts, it's too early to tell," Calipari said.
Teague is confident he'll respond when the time comes, but in the mean time he'll be working.
"I need to keep making sure I am knocking down open shots," Teague said. "I need to keep pushing the ball in transition, and sometimes I need to slow it down. I need to pick and choose when to speed up and slow down."