Chicago • A year ago, Dante Exum was visiting Bloomington, Ind., touring campus and weighing options. The Australian basketball star had his pick of schools and had narrowed his list down to Indiana, Oregon, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan.
The Hoosiers wooed him on his visit, introducing him to the team’s star — and future lottery pick — Victor Oladipo.
And if Exum had said yes, had committed, things might be different.
The young point guard would have had more TV face time. He might have made or broken your office bracket. He might just be a household name. But he’s not exactly that right now.
So Exum knows he has some catching up to do.
“They’ve seen some of the college players play 40 games this season,” Exum said of the NBA executives he’s trying to impress this week at the pre-draft combine, “and they haven’t seen me a lot.”
Outside of the most serious basketball circles, Exum is by and large a mystery.
After forgoing college in the United States, he split time last season between the Australian Institute of Sport and an intense regiment of workouts in Los Angeles.
He hasn’t faced big-time competition since last year’s U-19 World Championships, where he helped the Aussies upset top-ranked Spain and earned all-tournament honors.
For most, the son of a former NBA player is a series of YouTube clips.
And, he adds, “My game has changed a whole lot since those clips.”
But with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, projected by most to be the top three picks in the June draft, opting to skip this week’s combine, Exum is getting extra attention.
Exum’s measurements on Friday were certainly impressive. The guard measured 6-foot-6 with a wingspan of 6-foot-91/4. That’s big enough for a two-guard, but Exum sees himself running the point.
“I’ve always played the point guard position. That’s where I feel comfortable,” he said.
And while the Utah Jazz already have a point guard, Exum — who is generally considered the fourth-best pick in the draft — might be too tantalizing to pass depending on how the pingpong balls bounce. The Jazz could draft anywhere between the first and seventh pick. So Utah officials, allotted 18 players to interview this weekend, are scheduled to meet with Exum on Friday.
Exum did not participate in the combine’s drills on Thursday.
But his game is enticing.
“I can’t look at one player and say that’s who I play like,” he said. “But I can see different types, different traits players have. I like to look at Russell Westbrook, an explosive point guard, gets to the rim. I also like to look at how Manu Ginobili, how he gets to the paint and the way he finishes.”
Exum, who shares an agent with Kobe Bryant and his been living and working out in Los Angeles since just after the All-Star break, was reported as saying he wanted to play for the Lakers.
On Thursday, he dispelled the notion.
“It’s a thing that the media twisted from what I said,” he said. “Obviously the Lakers are a great organization, but I’m in this draft to go to a place that I feel best at, that is a good fit for me. Whatever team that is is the best fit for me. There’s no one place.”
He added, “Just looking at the teams that are interested in me, I don’t see a team that doesn’t look like a good fit.”
The draft process has been filled with lessons of Exum and his family.
His mother, an American who attended the University North Carolina but has lived for years in Australia, was caught once driving in the left lane.
Exum, meanwhile, is learning what it takes to be a pro.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is it’s what happens on the court that gets you in the NBA and [what happens] off the court that keeps you in the NBA,” he said. “That’s something I’ve taken very seriously, how I prepare for games and my workouts.”
Those workouts can be tedious at times.
“It kind of gets to the point where you’re thinking, ‘When am I actually going to get to play some 5-on-5?’” Exum said.
But the 18-year-old knows he won’t have to wait much longer.
He’ll hear his name called soon.
So will everyone else.