Louisville's hiring of Lands an attempt at Teague?

September, 4, 2009
The University of Kansas' past two national championship teams had staff members who were the fathers of players Danny Manning and Mario Chalmers.

Washington, D.C., native Dalonte Hill initially went to Kansas State in advance of Michael Beasley, but has since opened up quite a pipeline to the DC Assault AAU program in helping the Wildcats stay in the chase for an NCAA berth out of the Big 12.

Then-Memphis coach John Calipari hired Milt Wagner when DaJuan Wagner arrived.

Coaches who have ties to players joining staffs has happened for decades. It's not going away at any juncture. Some choose to do it and hope to land a star player, like Baylor's attempt last year to get John Wall by hiring Dwon Clifton, one of Wall's AAU coaches. (It didn't work for the Bears, as Wall went to Kentucky.) Some schools like North Carolina don't need to do it, and others like Gonzaga choose not to even mess with their staff or create positions simply to find a way to add to the staff.

So Louisville's hiring of Indianapolis Pike High assistant coach Shabaka Lands to its growing staff (11 people including head coach Rick Pitino, with almost a one-to-one ratio with scholarship players) is hardly a new phenomenon. But it's worth nothing nonetheless.

Lands' job description has been termed "special assistant to the head coach." Pike High is the home of one of the nation's top recruits for 2011 in Marquis Teague, named the top point guard in the class by ESPNU's Super 60 and the No. 4 player overall. Teague is the younger brother of current Atlanta Hawk and former Wake Forest guard Jeff Teague and the son of Shawn Teague, a former player for Pitino at Boston University.

On the surface, it looks like Pitino hired Lands to get Teague, or at the very least to land a high-profile recruit in the wake of Pitino's scandal involving Karen Sypher's alleged extortion of the coach after their 2003 extramarital indiscretion. But Pike High head coach Phil Spoljaric said there are at least two reasons to dismiss the perception, even if the timing is suspicious: Spoljaric was informed that Lands was going to Louisville in July (before Pitino's police interviews on the Sypher "encounter" were made public), and if Lands and Teague were a package deal, then the commitment would already be done.

"Is Louisville where he'll end up? I don't know, but I don't think it will affect it in the end," Spoljaric said. "Shawn [Teague] played for Pitino; that's more of a deal than Shabaka going there. Marquis' uncle, John, also played for Pitino at BU. The connection to Pitino was already there before this."

Spoljaric said Lands befriended Pitino's son Richard when he was recruiting Teague. Richard is now an assistant at Florida under former Pitino assistant Billy Donovan. Spoljaric said Lands, who is single, had the mobility to move to Louisville without reservation and has created a buzz about his coaching after shepherding players such as Jeff Teague, Robert Vaden and Courtney Lee through Pike High during his tenure as an assistant. Lands was the assistant under the previous two coaches at Pike.

"He doesn't have ties to Indianapolis, so it doesn't surprise me that he would be drawn to go to a college, and it's not a surprise to me that college coaches would be drawn to him after being here for eight or nine years," Spoljaric said.

Spoljaric said he was never approached to go to Louisville or any other college in the attempt to land Teague. He also added that he has a family, so any attempt to package him with Teague or any other player -- what he termed a gamble -- wouldn't appeal to him.

"I don't always agree with that practice, but that can be part of recruiting," Spoljaric said.

Still, the Teagues scoff at the notion that Lands' arrival means Marquis is sure to follow. Shawn Teague is adamant that Louisville is still among a group of schools that includes Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Wake Forest and Kentucky. Marquis Teague has already visited all seven.

"It has no bearing on Marquis' decision, even though a lot of people think otherwise," Shawn Teague said. "I didn't find out about this until July. There was no connection with me. I know everyone is trying to connect the dots and think it's a shoo-in deal."

Teague reiterated the family's independence from the Lands hire.

"We're not looking to get into a situation where there is some sort of package deal; we're not into that game at all," Teague said. "It's a good fit [for Lands]. I like Coach Pitino. I played for him. I followed him throughout his career."

Lands was the freshman coach for Jeff Teague and has been with the family at Pike throughout the boys' tenure at the school. So there is a clear relationship with Lands and the family. Marquis Teague ideally has his sights on a pro career, and Lands' location is likely irrelevant. This is a family that has just gone through two years of a high-profile situation at Wake Forest with Jeff Teague, an NBA early-entry decision, a draft-day experience and now has another son preparing to possibly follow the same path.

Would they really need someone to hold Marquis' hand in college?

"In most cases it's not necessary to have someone there to make sure he's comfortable," Shawn Teague said. "I don't think you need someone to watch your child or cater to them. But it does happen in recruiting."

Shawn Teague said his understanding is that Lands has always wanted to be in a college setting. Sure, jumping from an assistant high school coach to a position on the Cardinals' staff is quite a leap. This is hardly a low-level program. And even though the NCAA technically only wants coaches to be on the floor, there is no way all these "special assistants" on a staff stay put and never do any coaching throughout the course of the season. Most of them are former coaches who are pigeonholed into different gigs because there is a limit on the number of "coaches" on a staff.

That's fine. Having more voices on the floor is hardly a criminal offense.

We may never know if Pitino truly believes hiring Lands will get him Teague, or how much that played into the decision to hire him. But Shawn Teague and Spoljaric didn't hesitate to say Marquis is hardly in need of an umbilical cord when he heads off to college.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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