Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens saw the potential in Jeff Teague before most but might have cost himself a chance to coach him sooner because of some brutally honest advice during Teague’s high school days.
Fifteen years later, Stevens got a second chance at a recruiting pitch and finally landed the former All-Star point guard. Teague could be vital to Boston’s championship goals and the 11-year NBA veteran makes his Boston debut on Tuesday night when the Celtics open their preseason in Philadelphia.
Teague isn’t sure any of his basketball success would have happened without Stevens.
“I knew Brad since high school, he actually changed my whole life, basically,” said Teague. “Because I had a path that I wasn't really focused on school as much. I played basketball, obviously, but school wasn't my favorite thing to do. So he pulled me into a room at Butler as a sophomore in front of my dad and he basically showed him my grades. I had been hiding report cards for some years. And basically just told me, ‘If you want the opportunity to play college basketball, you have to bring your grades up.’ And my dad not seeing my grades for a couple of years, he was pretty mad about that.
"I had to get my act together, man. Basically got my focus right. And every time we play the Celtics in the past I would tell Brad, 'Hey, thank you for saving my life,' and he would look at me like shut up, whatever man. No, that was a big moment for me. I appreciate it.”
Remember, Butler wasn’t quite Butler when Stevens was trying to recruit Teague. The product of Pike High in Indianapolis ultimately chose to play at Wake Forest and had two solid seasons before the Hawks picked him with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Butler’s two runs to the NCAA title game followed in 2010 and 2011.
Stevens has been effusive in his praise each time the Celtics have played Teague in recent years. Now, finally, they’re on the same side.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Teague. “I had an opportunity to talk to guys that played for [Stevens] — me and Shelvin Mack are really close, I’ve known Gordon [Hayward] for years — they always just have so many positive things to say about him. So I’m excited to be a part of it.”
What was it about the Celtics that appealed to you as you were going through your your free agency process?
"I feel like we have a chance to win a championship. I think the talent that's here is one of the best teams in the league. So many talented players you know, Kemba [Walker], Jayson [Tatum], Jaylen [Brown], Marcus [Smart] and adding Tristan [Thompson] — I mean the list just keeps going. I think this team got to a position last year where they're fighting and are hungry. They had a little taste of it and they just want to keep going and get a little further and I want to be a part of it.”
What can you bring the team, whether it's starting early in the year if they need somebody, or off the bench? What what do you envision your role and what you can bring to this team?
"I just want to do what I can do to help the team, whatever role coach needs me. I know I expected to come off the bench or whatever but whatever role that they need me to play, I'm open to it. I’m going to try to bring the energy, bring the effort, and still be myself. Got a lot more to give and I wanted to be a part of something special.”
What are your early impressions of the other guards on the roster here, getting to know Tremont Waters and Payton Pritchard, and then obviously Marcus Smart?
"They're all great guys. So that's first and foremost, they're really good guys. Easy to talk to, easy to be around, but they work hard. Payton's always in the gym, first one in, last one to leave. He works hard, he's gonna be a great player. Tremont, same thing. These guys work really hard. We all know how hard Marcus plays — in practice, in the game. So that energy is contagious. And we all been feeding off of him.”
This team has been close with three trips to the East finals in the last four years. What can guys like you and Tristan Thompson do to get over that hump?
"Just try to bring that effort, whatever role we have to play, if that's coming off the bench or just try to bring some veteran leadership and just give them an extra little punch. Hopefully, my role could be that. I'm looking forward to it. It's a great challenge. But I think this team could do something special this year.”
You’ve worn Nos. 0, 00, and 44 in the NBA. How hard was it to choose a number here?
"That's probably the hardest I've ever been a part of, every number I said was taken or retired. But somehow I saw 55 and I wore this when I was a kid, so it worked out.”
Did I hear you’re an old-school WWF fan?
"I have the [WWE] Network. It’s all I watch every day. So, yeah, the Attitude Era, all that. That's my stuff."
Who’s your favorite wrestler?
"I go back and forth between Stone Cold, the Rock, and the Ultimate Warrior. I don’t know why but that’s my crew.”