SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 29: Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz talks to the media after the game against the New York Knicks on December 29, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

'It clicked in my head that I can do this': As he deals with offseason rehab, Danté Exum focuses on the positives

by Aaron Falk

Was this preventable?

That was the first thing Danté Exum asked his surgeon. The Utah Jazz guard had just been dealt another setback, another injury in his young career. And he wanted to know if it was his fault.

The surgeon told him, No. There was nothing he could have done. Then, Exum’s mindset shifted.

“I can’t control the uncontrollable,” he said. “There’s no point in me sitting here all said and praying and wishing and wanting to be on the court. It’s just about whatever I can do moving forward.”

Exum’s fifth season with the Jazz will be defined by injuries, a serious ankle sprain and later a torn patellar tendon. But as Exum set his sights on an offseason of rehab, the Aussie point guard was determined to fight his way back to the court, and redefine himself going forward.

“It’s frustrating to go into an offseason injured,” he said. “But I’ve thrown a lot of my energy and time into planning what my offseason will look like so I can be the best player I can be coming out of it.”

Exum averaged 6.9 points, 2.6 assists, and 1.6 rebounds during 42 games this season. But he had averaged 13.4 points during the five games in late December and early January before he suffered his ankle injury.

“Right before I got my ankle injury, I felt the most confidence I’ve ever had,” Exum said. “I was playing well. I felt like I was with the team and knew what everyone was thinking. It clicked in my head that I can do this. I can be a great player.”

Exum returned for three games in mid-March before he suffered another season-ending injury.

“It’s been the toughest road for me,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. Going through this—this was definitely the hardest one. But I felt like I’ve dealt with it the best.”

Exum has leaned on his teammates during the tough times.

“A lot of times, if someone gets injured you don’t hear anything from them until the media release,” he said. “As soon as I was injured, I went and let the guys know. I think that’s an important thing. Just to show them that I’m not going off on my own. That brotherhood, they’re part of my family. They’re part of the journey I’m going through. They were as supportive as anyone’s ever been.”

The 23-year-old point guard was with his teammates, watching from the bench during the first round of the NBA playoffs.

“It was definitely tough watching that series,” he said. “I just wanted to be out there for my teammates, fighting. This is what it’s all about. It’s why we grind through the season and the offseason, to get to the playoffs and have that opportunity to keep going. To not get that opportunity hurts.”

Now, Exum said he wants to be ready for his teammates to be able to lean on him next season.

“We’ve got something,” he said. “We’re building something great. We’re only getting closer as a team."

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