THE NBA’S NEW EX-FACTOR
Dante Exum is the name on the lips of the global basketball community. The 19 year old was taken at number five in last month’s NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz. But his path to the NBA was different to most – no College experience – instead, Dante was scouted on the back of a stellar youth career and a breakout performance at the under-19 world championships. Now, he’s about to play for Australia at the World Cup before entering the biggest basketball stage of them all – the NBA.
Dante congratulations on how your life has evolved over these past few weeks. It’s no doubt been a rush to live out. Do you have moments where you find it hard to believe the journey you’ve been taken on?
Yeah. You know 12 months ago I didn’t think I’d be in this position but I guess hearing my name called was kind of like the eye-opener to the whole situation that was going on. I’m just so happy to be there and right now so happy to be back and part of the Boomers program.
What’s it like on draft day when your name has been talked about so regularly as someone who will be taken high. What’s the feeling like in the few hours leading up to it?
You know I thought I was going to be nervous but I was just really excited. I was around a bunch of guys who have worked in basketball their whole lives and want the same thing as you. So you’re kind of just soaking up the moment and enjoying it. I wasn’t nervous the whole night. I was just there with my family enjoying the experience because it only happens once.
Did you know before you arrived that you would be taken in the top five or is it the lottery that we’re told it is?
It is different watching the draft and actually being in it. You hear all the gossip and the rumours about what is going to go down so I pretty much knew I was going fifth on my way to the draft. Utah called and said if it gets to them they’re going to take me, so it was good to have that barrier going into the night because it meant I wasn’t so nervous.
So Utah called you during the day of the draft with that news? Was that the first time you knew that Utah was an option?
Well, you know, because I was the mystery of the draft I never knew for sure where I was going to go. I figured I could go probably anywhere from three to 10. A lot of teams have to take a risk on me. They hadn’t really seen me play a lot so I was just going in with an open mind.
You were flying the flag for Australia too. Literally in fact. You had a map of Australia printed on the lining of the jacket you wore on draft night. You were pretty keen to let everyone know where you are from weren’t you?
Yeah. It’s very important to me. It’s where I’m from and it’s what has made me the person I am today. It has made me the basketball player I am today. I wouldn’t be here without the Australian system of basketball so if it takes something as little as showing everyone that I am from Australia, then that’s what I do.
You’ve just been playing in the NBA Summer League. What did you learn from that experience?
That it’s a hard, fast-paced game and it’s very physical. It’s something that is going to take a bit of time to get used to and adjust to, but with some game time under my belt it will come easier.
Has Utah indicated how much game time they might give you?
It’s all about whether I play well and come to perform. Nothing is given. Everything’s earned. So I’m just going to go in there and do my best to get a starting spot and try and assert myself as a player. But I want to be a starter for them.
Do you think the Jazz are a good fit for for you?
Yeah I do. They’re a really young team and they just bought in a new coach in Quin Snyder. He was a point guard at Duke and has coached for a long time so with the system he’s running – it’s very similar to the Boomers system – it’s definitely a good fit.
You have blown away the myth that you have to go through the College system haven’t you?
Yeah I guess. I had a coach in Ian Stacker who always said you don’t need College to get to where you want to get to so I’ve always just kind of believed in him and he’s shown me the way.
You’re about to go on the world stage at the World Cup. It could be crucial as to how the world views you and forms an opinion of you early in your career. Do you feel any pressure going into that tournament given the hype that has been surrounding you in the past few weeks?
No. Not really. I’ve had a lot of pressure put on me over the last six months or so, so I’m just going to go in with an open mind and do whatever I can and the best I can. I’m all about the team so if we get a medal that’s the most important thing.
Your Dad Cecil had a great College career, he was drafted into the NBA and had seven years in Australia playing in the NBL. What influence has he been and how important has he been to you in handling the past few months?
Yeah he’s been a big influence. And not just him but my family has been there for me since day one so I am very thankful.