Bird Of A Different Feather
A Q + A with new Atlanta Hawk Jeff Teague.
Jeff Teague isn’t stupid, he knows people talk, he’s been hearing it all year. First there was Wake Forest: they’re too young, not enough experience to keep up the early hot streak and finish near the top of the ACC this season. The Demon Deacons went 11-5 in conference and tied Duke for a second-place finish behind a stellar season from their leader on the floor.
Then there was the draft talk. Sure, he’s a great athlete and was stellar in college, but he should go back for another season, there are too many pure point guards in this draft. There’s that word, pure. Like being a devastating scorer in college as a point guard has suddenly become a stigma attached to players who can line up at either guard spot during their days of higher learning. Sure, Teague could have returned for another season in Winston Salem with teammate Al-Farouq Aminu and ruled over the ACC before hearing his name called in the 2010 lottery, but he did it his way. The super gifted, super athletic (pick one: combo-guard, lead guard, scoring point guard) kept his name in the draft and showed enough ability to captivate the Atlanta Hawks front office to take him with the 19th pick in the first round.
Now, just over a month past his 21st birthday, Teague is one of the hottest new acquisitions who will be making his debut in the ATL this fall, joining another newcomer, veteran two-guard Jamal Crawford in what will be a high scoring backcourt force off the bench. Sure, the Hawks just resigned Mike Bibby to a three-year deal – a fact that has gotten more talk about Teague losing minutes – but the youngster is wise to know that he can learn a lot from a floor general as seasoned as Bibby.
With three weeks having passed since the Wake Forest product officially entered into the League, Teague took some time to sit down with SLAM from his home in Indiana and talk about his plans for the summer, what he sees his role with the Hawks being and how his younger brother Marquis Teague stacks up when compared to big bro.
SLAM: What have you been up to since draft night?
Jeff Teague: After that night I had to head down to Atlanta for a press conference. Since then I’ve just been up in Indiana training.
SLAM: What was your reaction when the Hawks selected you with the 19th pick?
JT: Just being drafted was a great feeling, I’d never really felt like that before. I was just excited to get the chance to play for the city of Atlanta.
SLAM: During the individual workout process and your dealings with the various teams, did you get a sense that you were high up on the board for Atlanta?
JT: Yea, they told me actually that they didn’t think they had a chance to get me at that pick. They said they were really interested in me, so I was pretty confident going into the draft.
SLAM: You’re joining a young, talented team that is fresh off making the playoffs, and you will probably see less playing time than you would had you gone higher to a less established franchise. Would you rather have gone to a team where you might see more playing time early on?
JT: I think it’s going to be better for me in the long term to play for a team that is going to win and to learn from great players like Mike Bibby and the other guys on the team that have been through an NBA season. I think this is better for me.
SLAM: The Hawks aren’t fielding a team for the NBA Summer League, what is your training for the summer going to look like?
JT: I get up every morning at 9 o’clock and get to the gym to work on my body. On July 20th I’m heading to Atlanta for a mini-camp and in August I’ll be participating in another camp in Las Vegas that the team put me in.
SLAM: Do you feel like you would have benefitted from playing in the Summer League?
JT: I mean it would be nice to compete with some of the other draft picks, but I’m going to work hard at whatever I do. I think the mini-camp is going to help me a lot, I’ll get a chance to run the Hawks offense. It’ll be fun.
SLAM: Have you gotten a chance to talk to Coach Mike Woodson at all about what your role with the team is going to be?
JT: He told me that I’ll have the opportunity to play point guard, but every point guard has that learning curve in the NBA. He told me that I’ll get my chances, I just have to come in and work hard.
SLAM: Growing up you played at famed Pike High School in Indiana and Coach Woodson was an All-American at Indiana University. Is having that Indiana basketball connection a positive when starting out your relationship with him?
JT: I think it’s really good; we have something we can connect on. We both know how hard guys from Indiana work and what type of players we are having grown up here. He understands the wars that take place in Indiana basketball. I think he thinks I’m a good player who can play at this level.
SLAM: How does Mike Bibby resigning with the team effect your situation with the team?
JT: I think it really helps me actually. I know a lot of people have been asking me if I’m upset about it, but he’s a great point guard and he is someone I can learn from. I can be one of those great back up points guards who comes in and does his thing. But I think he can help my career a lot just because of how long he’s been around and how successful he’s been.
SLAM: Have you gotten to spend any time with your new teammates?
JT: No, not really, so many of the guys are all over the place. Josh Smith is out of the country, I met Joe [Johnson] briefly when I was in Atlanta but he was leaving the city. During the mini-camp though I think I’ll really get to know the guys well.
SLAM: At this point, do you see yourself developing into a true point guard in the NBA, or do you see yourself as more of a combo-guard like you were at Wake Forest?
JT: I feel I can be a lead guard in this League. I’ve played lead guard my whole life and in college I scored a lot in order for my team to be successful. I think that just helped my game a lot, but I’ve been playing the point my entire life. If Atlanta wants me to be a scoring guard or if they want me to be a true point guard, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability with either one.
SLAM: Why did you decide that this was the year for you to keep your name in the draft?
JT: Next year our team would have been really good at Wake Forest, but losing James [Johnson] he was one of my best friends and he was such a major part of our offense, I knew things weren’t going to be any easier next season. I felt that I was probably going to have a more challenging year next season and I thought this was the right time for me. I didn’t think my stock was going to rise any higher than it already was being that I’m a 6-0 point guard who shoots a lot; I decided to take my chances.
SLAM: Your teammate James Johnson was taken in the first round as well by the Chicago Bulls. Have the two of you talked at all since the draft?
JT: On draft night he called me after I got picked and we talked about it and just said how happy we were for each other. We’re best friends so we text all the time. I think he plays either today or tomorrow in the Summer League so I’ll be looking online for that.
SLAM: You talked about how Wake Forest can be a very good team again next season and a big reason why is the return of Al-Farouq Aminu. He was being talked about as a lottery guy this season; can you shed some light on why he opted to go back to school with his stock so high?
JT: Al told me that he didn’t want to be a guy that a team had to pick just because he was the best available player. I think I can kind of compare that to when the Hawks said they wanted me, I knew that if I was around at 19 I was going to get selected. So that was a real big deal for me and I think he feels the same way. When he comes out I think he wants people to say we want Al-Farouq, he wants them to trade up to get him. He felt this year it wouldn’t have been like that for him.
SLAM: Let’s talk about your brother Marquis, arguably the best guard in the high school class of 2011 right now. One-on-one who is going to win between the two of you?
JT: [Laughs] I believe I’m going to take that one. He’s my little brother; we still play in the backyard and stuff. So I think it’s an age thing right now and I’m going to take him.
SLAM: As he goes through the recruiting process, having gone through all of that yourself, what kind of advice are you going to be able to offer him?
JT: He talks to me every day and I’ve told him during this whole process not to worry about things, just play basketball. The school that you want to go to, don’t worry, they’ll come to you. You’re a top recruit, you just need to focus on the game, let my dad and other people worry about the other things.
SLAM: Right now in his development as a player, where is he at compared to where you were at his age?
JT: Going into my junior year I was really skinny, I was maybe 150 pounds. He’s like 170 pounds, he’s almost as much as I am now and he’s a little taller. He’s definitely more developed right now than I was. He doesn’t shoot quite as well as I did as a junior, but everything else he’s probably better than I was at that point. He’s more athletic, jumps higher and is faster than I was. I’d say right now he’s better than I was going into my junior year.
SLAM: Where are you in your contract talks right now with Atlanta? Are you close to signing a contract?
JT: Yes; actually they sent me a contract through the mail that I was supposed to sign, but my agent and I wanted to do some talking. We’re still working on a few things but I’ll probably sign in a few days.
SLAM: Last question for you, I need you to fast forward a bit. You’re running the break for Atlanta and you have Josh Smith on one wing and Joe Johnson on the other. Who do you dish the rock to, or are you taking it to the basket yourself?
JT: [Laughs] Well, if I’ve got Josh for the alley-oop I’m going to give it to him. If I’ve got Joe spotting up for a three, I guess I’ll take my chances with him shooting the three.