NBA Draft 2014: Australian Dante Exum goes to Utah Jazz

Dante Exum
Dante Exum

Australian teenager Dante Exum has achieved a lifelong dream of being drafted to the NBA by the Utah Jazz.

When Exum was born, his father, US-born former NBL forward Cecil Exum, took a basketball to the Melbourne hospital and placed it in his son’s tiny hands.

On Thursday, the 198cm tall point guard, dubbed ‘‘The Boy Wonder from Down Under’’ and ‘‘International Man of Mystery’’ by US media, was selected by the Jazz with the fifth pick.

The 18-year-old was considered a wildcard in the draft held in Brooklyn, New York, because he didn’t play US college basketball and most NBA executives, coaches and scouts had never seen him play a game in person.

‘‘I’m just a kid from Melbourne, Australia,’’ said Exum later, dressed in a grey suit and with a Jazz cap on his head.

‘‘I guess right now I just got drafted so I guess I’m not a mystery anymore.’’

Exum was expected to go to the 76ers with the third pick, or possibly No.1 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but slid down to the Jazz.

The 76ers are mentored by former Australian Olympic coach Brett Brown, but the team went for University of Kansas centre Joel Embiid.

The Orlando Magic also passed on Exum with the fourth pick.The Cleveland Cavaliers used their No.1 selection on another Kansas player, forward Andrew Wiggins, while the Milwaukee Bucks took Duke forward Jabari Parker second.

Exum has already cashed in with major endorsement deals with companies including adidas and Red Bull.

The Australian will sign a two-year contract with the Jazz worth about $US4.5 million ($A4.87 million) each year.

Like most kids from Melbourne, Exum played Australian rules growing up, but he says his dad steered him to basketball.

Despite having the height and freakish speed and jumping ability, Exum jokes that he wouldn’t have made it to the AFL anyway because he was not able to kick the ball.

Exum joins fellow Aussies Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors), Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Aron Baynes (Spurs) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers) in the NBA.

Australia will likely have a sixth NBA player later on Friday (AEST), with University of New Mexico power forward Cameron Bairstow expected to be selected in the second round.


Dante Exum is sitting in front of a phone inside a New York building, doing his umpteenth interview of the day.

On Friday morning [Australian time] he is expected to be drafted into the NBA, starting the biggest journey of his life. But his last day before the draft was filled with media appearances and ended with a few calls to Australian press.

“I’ve got nothing left mate, I’m running on fumes,” Exum says through a raspy voice before speaking at length about his experiences so far.

This is Exum’s best quality; he is poised, genuine and always finds a way to get through.

On July 13 Exum turns 19,but draft day should be like all his Christmases and birthdays at once when he wins a two-year guaranteed NBA contract which should net him $US3 million a year to play the sport he loves.

“It’s what every kid who plays basketball dreams about,” Exum said. “I’ve been here for two days and the waiting has been killing me.”

The suspense should end quickly once the draft starts and with 10 minutes or so between each pick, he should know within the first hour where he will go.

Exum hasn’t let himself imagine what the moment will feel like. He is most looking forward to being part of a team again after spending the better part of this year focused on getting drafted.

“Literally tomorrow night, by this time hopefully I’ll know where I’m going,” Exum said.

“I haven’t tried to visualise it or think about what team I’m going to be playing for or city I’m going to be living in.

“I’m just living in the moment and enjoying time with my family and soaking up the experience.”

Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando and Utah have the first five picks but could trade them so his fate isn’t certain.

Exum has carried a well-known name all his life, his dad Cecil played at North Carolina with Michael Jordan and James Worthy, both of whom became NBA superstars. Cecil then starred in the NBL and eventually opted to stay in Australia.

When Dante started coming through the Victorian junior ranks with Keilor Thunder and Werribee Devils his name always caught the eye.

His face is still little known either in Australia or the US but after starring in ads for Footlocker and Red Bull and soon to be a top draft pick, that is starting to change.

“I was thrown into the deep end for the day,” Exum said about his taste of acting. “It was just them giving me the lines and me trying my best to put them out there, they were very impressed with how I handled myself and how I delivered the lines.”

Exum’s also inked endorsements with adidas and Panini trading cards.

The other top prospects in this year’s draft come from the US college ranks so have played in front of big crowds all year while Exum has been training in Australia.

So Exum’s agent, Rob Pelinka, has put him in as much media as possible to build his fame against those other stars.

Yet Exum has still moved around New York and, before that, Los Angeles, without interruption.

“The other day I was at a sunglasses shop and I was talking to the guy and I said I was here for the draft and he said 'what’s your name?',” Exum said.

“He knew my name but didn’t know my face. You get situations like that then you get other situations where people see me and say 'are you Dante Exum?'

“It’s an eye-opening experience when someone notices who you are and wants to get a photo or a signature.”

American scouts and media have raised questions about Exum’s shooting, his thin build and his ability to withstand an 82-game NBA season.

But as there is no league in the world which combines games and travel like the NBA does, every rookie has that question mark over their heads.

 “It is a difficult thing to go from playing the number of games I’ve been playing to 82 games, it’s a ridiculous amount of games,” Exum said.

“You are jumping straight in and playing 82 games along with all the travel. It’s just a process where I need to learn to take care of my body.

“I need to attach myself to a veteran player and learn the ropes and see how they have stayed in the league so long.”

Exum has some big tests to come including a likely appearance in NBA summer league next month before his first NBA training camp.

Exum’s Boomers teammate Cameron Bairstow, from Queensland, is also a chance to be a second-round pick.

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