Cecil Exum saw the burst of speed when his son Dante raced past defender after defender, getting to the basket yet again and finishing with ease.
He looked at the long arms and quick strides and realized that young Dante had a bunch of room to grow. He admired the toughness and tenacity of his son, the product of playing rough and tumble games with his older brother in the backyard.
The thought creeped into Cecil Exum’s head. Slowly at first, but with more consistency as time continued. It was those moments that helped him realize Dante Exum had a future in basketball, and a bright one at that.
He was 15 years old at the time.
“He’s always responded to a challenge,” Cecil Exum said. “He was offered a scholarship by the Australian Institute of Sport and they did it a year earlier than we thought they would. I always thought Dante had two advantages growing up: I was able to teach him the game, and he had an older brother who always made him step it up.”
Dante Exum was formally introduced on Friday afternoon as the newest member of the Utah Jazz, having been selected by the organization with the No. 5 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. In his introductory news conference, dressed in a snazzy suit and wearing his team hat, the 18-year-old Exum showed the same poise and maturity that made him a hit with the Jazz front office during the interview process.
Many rave about Exum’s 6-foot-6 frame, which is huge for a point guard. There are continuous talks about his speed and athleticism. Still, more comment on his play-making ability.
But Exum is also one of the biggest unknowns of the draft. He’s had precious little experience against elite competition. Trying to find extensive footage of Exum is an arduous task as well. Still, the Jazz have spent two years of exhaustive scouting on Exum. In a draft where doing homework was key, Utah knew as much about Exum, his capabilities, and potential as anyone in the league.
“I feel like I just want to win,” Exum said. “I know this game is all about chemistry. I want to hook on to a veteran, and get a feel for things from the guys who have been in the league a long time. I want to earn the respect of my teammates. I think — as a point guard — it’s good to have a good relationship with every one of your teammates.”
In Exum, the Jazz have drafted a guy who could be one of the best players in the league given time. Now, how do you use him? There’s an all-rookie guard ahead of him named Trey Burke. Alec Burks is at shooting guard, and Gordon Hayward plays both wing positions.
That — however — is the beauty of Exum. He has the size and the versatility to play both spots in the backcourt, so transitioning in with Burke and Burks isn’t thought to be an issue. Exum’s ability to drive the lane and pass the ball will make him valuable in coach Quin Snyder’s offensive scheme.
Snyder said the Jazz want to eventually play basketball without defined positions. Last year, Utah had precious few guys who could make plays off the dribble. In that sense, Exum fills a huge need.
“With Dante we have the versatility to play different lineups, offensively and defensively,” Snyder said. “We’ll be able to do a lot of different things with him. Positions, they don’t mean that much. We have a few players that can make plays off the dribble, and whenever you have that, it makes things easier on the offense. Our big men are going to get a few dunks.”
His first exposure to the pro game will come in a few weeks, when the Jazz head down to Las Vegas for summer league. For now, Exum and his family will make the transition to Salt Lake City.
Dante Exum file
• His father, Cecil, played basketball at North Carolina and won an NCAA title in 1982.
• Was named to the All-Tournament team of the 2013 under-19 World Championships.
• Played in the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit for the world select team.
• Hails from Australia, like current NBA players Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova.
• Named to the All-Tournament team at the 2012 Under-17 World Championships.