7 Things to Know about Mystery Man Dante Exum

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Dante Exum was considered the mystery man of the 2014 NBA Draft lottery. Living in Australia, NBA personnel had limited exposure to his game. He was projected to go early, but how soon and to where remained in question leading up to that night.

The Utah Jazz selected the 6’6 guard with the fifth pick. This season he is averaging 4.5 points, 2.3 assists and 1.6 rebounds as he adjusts to the NBA. Exum, 19, also competed in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge for the World team during All-Star Weekend.

This week he sat down with Basketball Insiders and offered a look into the player the NBA is just getting to know.

Tales of MJ
Headlines buzzed last spring when Exum was compared to a young Michael Jordan. Exum had been hearing stories about him years before he became a prospect. His father, Cecil, was teammates with Jordan at the University of North Carolina. Exum learned about this when he was around nine years old and grew up with firsthand accounts of the great.

“(My father) talked about his work ethic,” said Exum. “He was always the first one in the gym, last one out, that type of stuff. He was someone who developed throughout college and he was determined. That sticks in my head.”

Living in Mystery
Exum was projected to be a high lottery pick, but given the lack of visibility for teams it was unclear as to where he would end up. There were pros and cons to his anonymity, and by Draft Night he was ready for people to know his name.

“It was a good thing and a bad thing being that mystery man,” Exum said. “I could drop at any point or someone could pick me up and take a risk. It was kind of fun in a way, but at the end it got kind of tiring not knowing.”

Defending CP3 in Game 3
It didn’t take long for Exum to experience his first “oh my goodness” moment in the NBA. The Jazz faced the Los Angeles Clippers in their third preseason game in mid-October. The rookie was matched up against Chris Paul, who he admired growing and couldn’t believe he was guarding at first.

“I looked up and was like, ‘I’m playing Chris Paul,’” Exum said. “I had that wow factor I had to get over. I was defending him and just trying to keep my feet and stay in front of him, thinking, ‘Don’t let him get a bucket.’”

Basketball Overload
Exum’s basketball schedule in Australia resembled the NFL more than the NBA. While he occasionally played consecutive days, it was nothing compared to the 82-game haul of the NBA regular season. Exum has picked up a new talent to combat the grind.

“In Australia we’d have a whole week between games. We had tournament style where we did have back-to-backs, but it only goes a week or two and then it’s over,” he said. “We had a game Tuesday in Memphis and didn’t arrive at the hotel until 3 a.m. (Wednesday in Boston). Just trying to deal with that and having to step back out on the court and play another NBA game, it’s just one of the challenges in the NBA. I learned that I can sleep a lot. Here, that’s the biggest thing. I have to get rest when I can.”

Making a Name for Himself
Part of Exum’s pre-draft hype was finding a comparison to a current NBA player. He doesn’t like to pinpoint one particular person, incorporating aspects of multiple guards into his style.

“It wasn’t really a player I related to the most. I tried to take pieces out of everyone’s game,” he said. “Derrick Rose, for starters, his transition game, getting rebounds and pushing the ball. [Also] someone like Tony Parker, once he gets in the paint and being able to analyze and play slow.”

Ultimately it is up to Exum to establish who he is as his own player.

“It’s a tremendous amount of pressure but I’m on my own path going on my own pace,” he said. “Obviously I want to be at a certain level right now, but I know it’s going to take some time. It’s a long kind of a process.”

Forward Focused
The NBA is a league of ups and downs, blowout wins and upsetting losses. Exum is learning how to keep looking ahead and leave the previous game in the past.

“I think the biggest thing is there’s going to be nights when you’re hot, feeling it and there’s going to be nights when you’re not,” he said. “It’s about when you’re feeling it, not to get too high or when you’re not, not to get too low. You’ve got 82 games and you need to stay level-minded. It’s a hard thing, but it’s just a constant reminder to yourself that you have another game around the corner.”

A Taste of Home
From television shows to music, Exum says there are many similarities between the lifestyles in the United States and Australia. If there was one thing he would carry over into the American culture, it would be a culinary favorite.

“A meat pie,” he said. “I wish I had a meat pie over here. It’s like a snack. I’d eat it at the cricket.”