Melbourne 18-year-old Dante Exum has become the fifth player picked in the annual draft of the National Basketball Association in the United States.
The draft of 60 players involved mostly eligible players from US college ball, but pro and college players from at least 11 other countries were selected – only one before Exum.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the pick of Exum, the most heralded young player ever to come out of Australian basketball, at the televised event in New York.
“With the fifth pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the Utah Jazz select Dante Exum … from Melbourne, Australia.”
Dante Exum is the son of US-born Cecil Exum, who played for North Melbourne, Melbourne and Geelong in Australia’s National Basketball League.
Cecil Exum, a college-basketball team-mate of Michael Jordan at the University of North Carolina, and his wife Desiree stayed in Australia after his career.
It’s a path that could come to sound familiar over the next few years.
The next big thing
Ben Simmons, the 17-year-old son of Dave Simmons, another US-born player in the Australian league who stayed, is projected as the next big thing out of Australia behind Exum.
Then there’s 17-year-old, 213-centimetre, South Sudanese-born Thon Maker out of Sydney, yet another Australian projected to be drafted very high after him.
And behind them could be Sydney’s US-college-bound Jonah Bolton, son of Bruce Bolton, yet another US-born star of the Australian league who stayed.
But, for now, the story is Exum, the 198-centimetre guard with a 212-centimetre wingspan who can handle the ball well enough to play point guard or shooting guard.
“I’m looking to go into the (Utah) system and learn.”
Interviewed on ESPN’s live broadcast of the event, he spoke humbly of looking forward to joining a Utah team that already has some quality guards.
“You know, you look at our Australian team, and we have great guards in Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to playing with another guard, and it will be a good experience for me. I’m looking to go into the (Utah) system and learn.”
ESPN’s specialist on players outside the United States, Fran Fraschilla, says Dante Exum is worthy of all the hype surrounding him.
He led his team to the national schools championship, excelled at the Australian Institute of Sport and stepped up to another level in the Under-19 World Championships.
“(Dante’s) a play-maker. He’s dynamic. He’s got a great feel for the game.”
Fraschilla says Exum’s ability to play either guard spot at his size is a particular strength.
“When I watched him in Prague last summer at the Under-19 World Championships, there were very few decision-makers — (NBA) general managers, team presidents — there. Utah, luckily, has great international scouting. Dante Exum put on a show there, averaging about 19 points a game. At 6-foot-6, he can play both positions. He’s a play-maker. He’s dynamic. He’s got a great feel for the game.”
Cecil Exum says his son originally planned to play college basketball in the United States for one year, then turn professional, which is the earliest US players are allowed to join the league.
He told ESPN his son decided only last year to go straight into the NBA.
“It didn’t happen until after he participated in the Worlds (World Championships), both the (Under-)17s and (Under-)19s,” he said.
“Then (he had) a great showing in the (Under-)19s against Spain, and then we had a few agents contact (us), a few NBA people reach out and say hello. He always said, ‘I want to be one year and done,’ and I said, ‘Well, uh, maybe you want to strike while the iron is hot.'”
Late in the second round of the draft, a second Australian player learned he, too, will get the chance to try for a spot in the NBA.
The Chicago Bulls picked Brisbane power forward Cameron Bairstow, who just finished his US college career at the University of New Mexico.