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Teague back to simply playing the game

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Marquis Teague has 17 assists and just six turnovers over his last three games. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Marquis Teague has 17 assists and just six turnovers over his last three games. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Marquis Teague never showed it much, but the early part of his freshman season was a battle.

For the first time in his basketball career, he was playing the game as he always had and it simply wasn't working. John Calipari was telling him he needed to play in a radically different way and Teague was caught in game of tug of war with himself.

He had always been able to rely on a combination his raw ability and his instincts to become one of the nation's highest-rated prep point guards

"It was causing me to think a lot," Teague said. "I was worrying about things I shouldn't have been worrying about and I should have just been playing."

Teague began to question himself and, in his words, "look over my shoulder." For a player who always had things come easy, that was a struggle.

"It plays with your head a lot more people would think it would do," Teague said. "It's tough. You've got to be strong-minded and continue to work. You've got to work your way out of it."

There were moments when Teague would flash the potential that caused Calipari to tab the Indianapolis, Ind., native as the next in his line of elite point guards, but things weren't quite clicking. He had 45 turnovers in his first 14 games and watched as shots he was used to making go awry.

All the while though, Calipari kept expressing confidence in his point guard because Teague wasn't the first of his players to go through something like that. For Teague to shake it off, Calipari knew his mindset would have to change, but he didn't doubt that would eventually happen.

"What happens to these young people," Calipari said, "if they don't let you define them - let us kind of present you to find out how you're going to play - when they argue the point, they think they can play like they did in high school. And when it doesn't work, it rattles them. Then they don't know if they're good enough. Then you start questioning, 'Can I play?' Well, you can play, just not the way you're playing, and that's the hard thing."

While Teague wrestled with what Calipari was telling him and the way he was used to playing, he continued to work, relying on a strong support system that included his father, Shawn, and his brother, Jeff, a point guard for the Atlanta Hawks, to keep him centered and focused.

"They helped me out a lot," Teague said. "They pretty much just talked to me positive, told me to keep working, keep lifting and stay in the gym and you'll be alright."

At long last, Teague's patience and persistence are paying off.

Kentucky (20-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) has ascended to the top spot in the rankings behind the progressively steadier play of its freshman floor general entering a trip to face the LSU Tigers (12-8, 2-4 SEC) on Saturday at 4 p.m. on the SEC Network.

"I think I'm seeing things a lot better after getting comfortable with the offense and knowing where everybody's going to be," Teague said.

"I'm just reacting to things instead of worrying about too much, thinking about things too much. Now I'm just playing."

Teague is far from a finished product, but the progress he has made is noticeable in SEC play. He has tallied 25 assists against 16 turnovers in six games and would like to further limit those mistakes, but his improvement all comes back to embracing Calipari's message.

Perhaps the best example of his evolution came in his last outing. Teague dished out seven assists and committed no turnovers on Tuesday against Georgia in a 57-44 win. He scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, but Teague has come to realize he doesn't have to score 20 for his team to be successful.

"My first thing is to get everyone else involved. On a team like this, you don't really have to score as many points as I'm used to scoring. I'm trying to get everybody else involved and create and control the tempo of the game."

In high school, that kind of scoring night would have surely meant defeat for Teague's team, but not with these Wildcats. He is one of six UK players averaging double figures and is still capable of filling it up, but has learned to take what the defense gives him.

"We come out of the floor and whoever has it going, that's who we go to," Teague said. "We keep feeding them. On our team, several people might have it going one game so we're lucky to have that."

Calipari was certainly pleased with his offensive effort against the Bulldogs, but it was Teague's performance on other end of the floor that really excited his coach. Teague set a career high in rebounding while tirelessly chasing Georgia's veteran guards.

"The biggest thing with Marquis Teague that he's doing better is he's defending and rebounding," Calipari said. "You all want to look at his offense, he's defending and rebounding. He's not stopping. He's going in and getting rebounds. He had seven rebounds (last game). If he has seven rebounds, we'll outrebound the other opponent by double digits."

In all likelihood, Teague's next defensive assignment will be Anthony Hickey, a native of Hopkinsville, Ky., and the reigning Mr. Basketball for the state of Kentucky. He is averaging 10.0 points and 4.0 assists in his freshman season and Teague expects Hickey to be eager to prove himself against his home-state school.

The two freshmen played against one another last season in the Kentucky/Indiana All-Star Games and Hickey made an impression on his counterpart.

"He's a good guard, real quick and good with the ball," Teague said. "He can shoot the outside shot and he's a true point guard."

He may have chosen to pursue Teague over Hickey, but that doesn't mean Calipari doesn't believe the LSU point guard to good enough to play for him.

"(Hickey) is an SEC player and a starting point guard," Calipari said. "I just saw him against Mississippi State hit four 3s to end the game - in a row. He's not afraid. He could play here. There's no question. He's not afraid. He's a battler. He's good."

Learning a lesson from his early season troubles, Teague is done with thinking too much. When he steps on the floor opposite Hickey, the only thing that will be on Teague's mind will be running his team.

"I'm just going to come in and compete, play like I've been playing and try to lead my team and get a win," Teague said. "There's no one-on-one battle with me or anything like that. I'm just focused on winning."

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