Draft Spotlight: Dante Exum
In a sport where 12-year-olds have Ballislife mixtapes, it’s not often that top prospects are able to fly under the radar. For Australian point guard, and projected top-five pick, Dante Exum, that’s exactly what’s happened.
Born and raised by American expat parents in Melbourne, Exum has always gravitated towards the sport. His father, Cecil Exum, was a member of the 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels team that won a National Championship behind future Hall of Famers James Worthy and Michael Jordan. Although Cecil played sparingly during his four years in Chapel Hill, he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the ninth round of the 1984 Draft.
After failing to make Denver’s opening day roster, he and his soon-to-be wife, Desiree, picked up and moved halfway across the globe, where Cecil had been offered a contract to play in Australia’s National Basketball League. The two have lived in Melbourne ever since. In 1993, their first child, Jamaar, was born, and two years after that, the couple had twins, Tierra and Dante.
The three Exum children were always keenly interested in sports, with Tierra competing in track and field and the two boys playing basketball. But for the youngest of the three (Tierra was born 18 minutes before Dante), it wasn’t his father that attracted him to basketball, it was his older brother.
“My father played, obviously, and when I was born, he was coaching teams for my brother,” Dante recalled during an interview at the NBA Draft Combine in May. “I was always the young kid on the sideline watching my brother and wanting to play. I developed a love of the game at a young age.”
The sport came naturally to Dante, and by age 15, he was invited to join Australia’s 2012 Olympic Team for training camp, becoming the youngest player in the program’s history to earn that honor.
Still, Exum remained a relative unknown to stateside basketball fans.
Fast forward three years, and impressive performances on the international circuit have catapulted the 6’6” point guard to the top of the 2014 Draft. But still, American fans know little about Exum, aside from what they can gather from the small collection of highlights and interviews available online.
“It’s sort of fun [being an unknown],” Exum said. “Nobody really knows me, and everybody’s trying to get to know who this kid from Australia is.”
In fact, Exum’s relative obscurity was made the subject of a recent series of stateside television advertisements. Despite the 18-year-old’s inexperience with the NBA limelight, those who know him say he’s more than ready to make the jump.
“I played with Dante on the FIBA Oceania Men’s Team, and I’ll tell you, he’s a high-character guy, at the same time very well-spoken, and extremely talented,” said Cameron Bairstow, a fellow Australian and hopeful 2014 draftee.
In some ways, Exum feels that he might be more prepared for the pro ranks than his American peers.
“I’ve been away from home since I was 15, living at a camp that’s kind of like college in a way, so I’ve definitely developed maturity and learned how to handle myself in situations like this,” he said. “That’s why [I declared for the draft].”
In the last 10 drafts, only three international prospects – Jonas Valanciunas (5th in 2011), Ricky Rubio (5th in 2009), and Andrea Bargnani (1st in 2006) – have been selected in the top-five without playing NCAA basketball. On Thursday, Dante Exum hopes to become the fourth.
The 2014 NBA Draft will take place on June 26 at 7pm (EST). Watch at home on ESPN or come out to one of our 76 draft parties across the tri-state area!