LAS VEGAS — If you like the mysterious type, then Australian native and Utah’s newest rookie Dante Exum might not be the player for you. Leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft, questions surrounded the riddle that was the 6-6 Exum. Except, one conversation with him, and you see he is as forthcoming as the Las Vegas heat in July.
Ask Exum a question and he will give you answer and an honest one at that. We probably need to give him some time, but he doesn’t come across as the typical jaded athlete bored with the media circus that surrounds life in the NBA.
Again we may need to give that some time.
His Vegas summer league debut was a two-hour Twitter exercise in wild proclamations that included overstatements and understatements. Usually with events like his debut the reality is somewhere in the middle. Still, this isn’t a typical situation. When someone is drafted as high as Exum was, No. 5, typically his game is broken down, reconstructed and dissolved again before being selected.
That didn’t happen for Exum. His game wasn’t on display for over a year. “I haven’t played a full game…a legit game since last year” said Exum in an interview after a recent practice in the Las Vegas summer league.
Exum went on to explain how he felt the year off actually helped his development.
“It was good. I know a lot of people criticize it because I wasn’t playing games, but I was working on my game — working on little aspects that needed working on. You see in the NBA season and college seasons there isn’t a lot of individual work and it’s just game play. It was good to just have a year of working on that before I head into a lot of games.”
Because his game hasn’t been on display for U.S. hoop critics to scrutinize, skepticism rules the air when forecasting his career path. Exum seems to be handling the detractors in stride, and understands he’s the one who decides his fate, not the prognosticators.
“I just look at it as if they could say good things about me, or I could be this or that but it’s in my hands,” Exum says. “I’m the controller of that. So whatever they are trying to predict it doesn’t mean anything. I’m the controller.”
When he was asked about what people are most surprised by when they finally see him play, he alluded to his playmaking ability as the attribute that stands out the most.
His quickness also seems to be an asset that will propel him in the NBA game. Similar to height, speed is something that you just can’t teach.
But Exum will not be able to zoom past some of the elite guards and complex defensive schemes that are his primary obstacles in his path towards success. When questioned about what he’s focusing on while at summer league and heading into the season, the answer came back to his naysayers’ chief complaint: shooting.
“I just want to stay confident in my shot. Try to shoot with confidence and walk out of the (summer league) tournament with the confidence to shoot.”
The release on his jumper doesn’t always have the same arc on it from what I’ve seen of him in Vegas. He doesn’t force the issue when it comes to his offense, either. That probably stems from both his lack of confidence in his shot, and his more natural playmaking mentality.
Utah has another playmaker on the team in Trey Burke, but Exum doesn’t feel the two will have issues alongside each other on the court.
“Me and Trey have built a good relationship thus far and no one is trying to steal anything away from the other,” Exum says. “So it’s all about sharing.”
If Exum is truly a giver, then he should fit in well with a Jazz who have a rich tradition of local community involvement. He was asked about how the Utah lifestyle meshes with his personality. He alluded to his mom’s happiness because the city’s conservative ways would help to keep him out of trouble. He also said the youthfulness of the team fits him because the core should be able to grow together over the coming seasons.
While Exum still has plenty of time to connect and grow in the city of Utah, the rest of the nation got an opportunity to see his personality in a couple of Foot Locker ads that ran on the night of the 2014 Draft.
A reporter on the scene asked him how the Foot Locker partnership came together. He said that he was aided by his agent who thought it would be a good idea to get him a little exposure and that he didn’t mind doing the spot.
“I’ve always been around friends that like to joke around. So I had no problem being the laugh of the day or laugh of the commercial. It was just good fun. I try to be funny, but my friend’s wouldn’t say I’m funny.”
He seems to be comfortable with who he is (funny or not) and understanding of the process he has to endure. Good players are often given nicknames and I asked him if he had one that has been able to stick.
“People are trying to give me nicknames like D, DX, X-man.” But when asked what name he preferred he quipped, “I prefer Dante,” with a broad smile on his cherubic face.
The simplicity in that remark speaks volumes. What you see is what you get with Exum and there is nothing wrong with that. We no longer have to wonder who he is. All the answers we need are coming soon enough and for anything we are unsure of, we can just ask Dante himself.
What do you think?
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