Consider me fooled. Jeff Teague is officially headed for the NBA, and I am officially surprised. From the very beginning of this process I expected him to return to Wake Forest for his junior year, but that will not be the case. Hoping to be a top 20 draft pick, Teague is hiring an agent and expecting to be drafted later this month.
Teague's NBA saga may seem only a few months old, but to some extent it started as soon as he set foot on campus. From the very beginning of his freshman campaign the team had a nickname for him that started leaking out: "Teague to the League." Although it clearly was not going to happen right away, people seemed to know that sooner or later Jeff would make his way to the big leagues.
There was never any real danger of Teague leaving after his freshman season. The thought may have crossed his mind, but he and everyone else knew he wasn't ready yet. He showed flashes of brilliance that year, but the team just wasn't that good, and Teague had plenty of room to grow before being NBA ready. Plus, with the incoming recruiting class, everyone knew 2008-2009 could be a special year.
Although it was not the most important topic of conversation when the 2008-2009 season began, it was probably about the time people began considering the possibility that this would be Teague's last season with the Demon Deacons. He exploded early in the season and quickly built a name for himself, garnering national attention. James Johnson may have been the player with the most NBA upside, but Teague was the face of the team.
When ACC play started in January and an undefeated Wake Forest team took down North Carolina, Teague's national prominence reached what would prove to be its peak. But, as Ishmael Smith took over more and more of the point guard duties, Teague's effectiveness suffered immensely. Both his scoring and his demeanor headed south as the season progressed towards its final thud in Miami.
Had you asked me in mid January, I would have told you Teague was as good as gone. But by late February I was singing a completely different song. I would have told you Teague clearly needed another season to develop, that he needed to learn to play effectively off the ball as well as on, and that he needed to become more consistent.
I also would have said Teague felt the same way about things. As adamant as James Johnson was about declaring for the draft and Al-Farouq Aminu was about staying at Wake, Teague's unwillingness to really commit publicly to the draft solidified my belief that he would be back in the Old Gold and Black in 2009. His "testing the waters" looked to me like a guy wanting to see what the process looked like, rather than actually getting ready to leave.
Obviously I was very wrong, but I am still struggling to understand his decision. Ever since his initial declaration, few people – either journalist or scout/expert – considered Teague more than a marginal lottery pick. I am certainly far from being able to scoff at the talent of a marginal NBA draft lottery pick or the money that comes with such status, but this has never felt like Teague's potential peak to me. I have been and probably will continue to be convinced that with one more season of college ball Teague could develop into a sure top-10 if not top-5 pick in 2010.
I wasn't the only one fooled. Dino Gaudio never publicly said anything that made it seem like he expected Jeff to actually leave. Now that things have played out, I'm wondering how Teague feels about Dino Gaudio as a head coach. For one, Teague seems to have been less than forthcoming with Gaudio throughout this process. Furthermore, Teague's decision leads me to believe that he did not think Gaudio could continue to develop or showcase his talent effectively enough next season.
I don't pretend to be able to know what is or has been going on inside of Jeff Teague's head. Maybe this was the plan all along; make sure he was reasonably assure of being a first round draft pick (preferably top-20) and he was going to be gone. It didn't matter what Dino Gaudio or anyone else thought. But if that was the plan all along, I struggle to understand why Teague has handled the process the way he has.
All of that speculating aside, the fact of the matter is that Jeff Teague is headed to the NBA and Wake will be without his services next season. I wish Jeff the best of luck and hope he has a long and successful career. From a journalistic perspective, he was always easy to talk to and enjoyable to cover. Certainly from that standpoint he'll do well in the NBA.
It may work out really well for him. He may not have had further success in another season at Wake, particularly had his difficulties as a shooting guard continued. Now Wake can move on without trying to figure out how best to get Teague involved. Unfortunately for the Deacs, however, I think that would have been a pretty good problem to have.
So that's that. Teague is headed to the League, just as his nickname predicted all along. Perhaps it happened sooner than some of us expected (although I know there are plenty of you out there who thought this would happen from the beginning. Congrats, I guess, on getting it right), but it is what it is and Wake will move on.
Look for continued coverage of Jeff Teague and James Johnson's NBA draft saga over the next couple of weeks. We will likely examine some of their draft possibilities before the day gets here and then analyze the results afterwards. Stay tuned.