Utah Jazz guard Danté Exum works after shootaround in Salt Lake City on Oct. 5, 2019.
Nick Bolerjack

Guard or wing? Danté Exum keeping an 'open mind' about his role with the Utah Jazz this season

by Aaron Falk

Danté Exum will take his spot on the bench and watch the action unfold Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena. As the Utah Jazz’s preseason slate tipped off with a game against the Adelaide 36ers, of Australia’s National Basketball League, Exum will surely be taking notes — and he’s doing it with a different perspective this year.

The 24-year-old Jazzman is now part-owner of a new NBL squad, the South East Melbourne Phoenix, making Exum even more invested in the success of basketball in his homeland.

And as he prepares for the start of his sixth NBA season, Exum is keeping an open mind about his own development, too.

“One of my biggest goals for myself coming into this season was to have an open mind,” Exum said at the start of training camp this week.

Exum once saw himself as a point guard exclusively. But the 6-foot-6 Aussie said he is ready to embrace any role Jazz coach Quin Snyder and his staff choose this year.

“I can guard multiple positions, so why not use me wherever I’m needed?” Exum said. “I don’t want to get pigeonholed into something. It’s going to be a competitive team. I’m trying to fight for minutes. If it’s at the [point guard, shooting guard, or small forward], I’m going to accept that. I’m going to try to star in that.”

Dennis Lindsey, the Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations, has said the team is “penciling Danté in as just a player, who could play guard and wing.” After an offseason spent getting stronger and working on his shooting form, Exum said he is ready for whatever is asked of him.

“Where I fit into that is going to be game-dependent,” he said. “I can guard 1-3. I can play the point; it’s what I’ve been able to do. But I can also run the floor. That’s part of my game I want to add this year and be a threat in transition.”

Exum (right knee rehab) did not suit up for Saturday’s exhibition game against the Adelaide 36ers. But the Aussie enjoyed the chance to see an NBL squad in an NBA arena.

“It’s a good opportunity to see some of the guys I grew up watching or some of the guys I played with growing up,” Exum said. “It’s a fun game, even though it’s really serious for us.”

Exum is deeply interested in the growth of Australian hoops. With South East Melbourne Phoenix, Exum is part of an ownership group that includes former NBA players Josh Childress, Zach Randolph and Al Harrington.

“The NBL is only growing with some of the young guys that are coming through,” Exum said. “I met the guy who bought the franchise and we just kind of hit it off. We had so many ideas about how to make the NBL better, things teams could be doing.”

Exum is interested in making things better for the players.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories about practices, where they’re practicing, how they eat. We just want to make the organization better,” Exum said. “I think the Jazz do a good job taking care of the players, so if I can bring that back to Australia … it’s going to be not only good for the players but for the league.”

Exum said he is eager to rejoin the Australian national team next summer for the 2020 Olympics. He was one of the 50,000-plus who watched the Boomers beat Team USA in an exhibition game in Melbourne this summer. And he set alarms for early each morning while Exum was in Salt Lake and the Boomers battled in World Cup play in China.

“I was so excited watching those guys go at it,” Exum said. “Obviously, I wanted to be out there on the floor and play, but I was getting ready for this season. That’s my priority.”

Exum was one of the last players on the court as shootaround wrapped up Saturday morning, working on his finishing at the rim, and later running from 3-point line to 3-point line, firing off shots with each stop. The Utah Jazz guard is taking things day by day as he recovers from last season’s knee injury.

“The recovery has been good,” Exum said this week. “It’s been a long offseason. It’s not how anyone wants to spend their offseason, rehabbing. But I’m feeling really good.”

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