ATHENS — There are a lot of perks to being the little brother of an NBA player. To start with there are the shoes.
Marquis Teague, the younger brother of Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, said he doesn’t know exactly how many pairs of basketball sneakers he owns, but he grudgingly acknowledges it’s probably more than 50 pairs. A good many those came to him as what you might call “brand new hand-me-downs” from big brother.
“I’ve never had to worry about shoes,” Marquis says with a laugh.
There are some other advantages as well. Namely, his close relationship with Jeff has helped make Marquis (pronounced MAR-cuss) into one of the more talented young point guards in college basketball. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound freshman has started every game and played a team-high 32.1 minutes for No. 1-ranked Kentucky (30-1). The Wildcats carry an undefeated conference record (16-0) and heavy-favorite tag into this week’s SEC tournament in New Orleans.
“It’s been pretty good,” Teague said of his first season in college basketball. “We’re winning a lot of games. We’re playing pretty good. We’re coming together as a team right now and playing well. I’m having a lot of fun and we’re having a lot of success, so I can’t complain.”
He could. There was this week’s snub in the all-conference voting. While every other member of the Wildcats’ starting lineup is represented somewhere on the All-SEC teams released this week — first-team, second-team, all-freshman, all-defensive — Teague’s name is not on any of them.
But that is a byproduct of being a designated ball-distributor in talent-laden assemblage. Teague averages a steady but unspectacular 9.8 points and is tied for second in the SEC with 4.7 assists per game.
“They have a team that’s so talented that probably nobody gets the credit that they deserve for the level of ability that they have,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “I think Teague’s a really good point guard. Probably because he’s so good at getting other guys the ball and just because he does what he needs to do to help them win, you forget how effective he really is.”
Teague, a five-star prospect who averaged 22.7 points per game in high school, arrived at Kentucky with a scorer’s mentality. Kentucky coach John Calipari quickly made it clear that he wasn’t there to do that. Jeff helped ease the transition.
“He’s getting better as the season goes on,” Jeff Teague said. “I think the coaches believe in him a little more. Early, he had some mistakes as a freshman and the coaches were hard on him. The fans were hard on him. He’s still a young kid ... and he took it kind of tough. But I think he has tougher skin now. He’s better.”
As one might imagine, the Teagues are a basketball family. Marquis Teague’s father, Shawn, played the point for Rick Pitino at Boston University and later at Missouri. His cousin, David, played at Purdue. And his mother and two sisters played high school basketball.
Then, of course, there is his brother. Before Jeff was starring at Wake Forest and playing in the NBA, he was balling with his little brother.
“He always came along to play with me,” said Jeff, who is four years older than Marquis. “He was always as good as everybody. When he got in the seventh or eighth grade, every time I went home for the summer, I just brought him with me. He was never scared to play against guys older than him.”
Getting together is tougher these days. The brothers’ schedules rarely allow them to see each other in person. Jeff made it to a game during the NBA All-Star break and caught a couple of others when his itinerary allowed.
But they watch each other’s games on television and talk on the phone almost daily.
"That's my guy," said Jeff, who predicts little brother will surpass him as a basketball player. "I've always admired him and I guess he's always looked up to me. That's my brother. I love him."