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Gordon Monson: Dante Exum and Rodney Hood — Who are these guys?

Published June 28, 2014 1:22 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Who should have burst onto the platform and performed at the Jazz's practice facility on Friday, providing theme music for a meet-and-greet that could have been wrapped up by their iconic song chorus: "Whooooooooo are you? Who, Who, Who, Who?"

Nobody knew.

Nobody had a clue, really.

The occasion had nothing to do with the actual meaning behind Pete Townshend's famous lyrics. No one woke up drunk in a Soho doorway. No policeman knew anybody's name.

But there definitely were acquaintances to make and information to glean, both professional and personal.

Dante Exum, who are you? Who, who, who, who?

Rodney Hood, who are you? Who, who, who, who?

Those were the questions everybody on hand asked, in one form or another, at the introductory news conference for the Jazz's draft picks. There was one other question, too, tromping around in everybody's brain. The answer to that one would have to wait: Can either of these guys really play NBA ball?

Exum, in particular, was the focus of an identity search.

Probably because he's 18 years old. We all have gym shoes older than him. We have T-shirts older than him. I, personally, own an unused stick of deodorant — Old Spice — older than him. Besides, all 18-year-olds are riddles and mysteries, right?

And because he's been stashed away in Australia for his entire life. The only thing anybody around here knew about Australian Rules basketball is that Andrew Bogut played it and was a product of it.

Nobody sending up probing questions at the presser had ever seen Exum play in a live setting. None had watched him live on television. Most had seen highlights, most had read up on the 6-foot-6 point guard, most had heard the wide-ranging exclamations about him and his game: He's athletic. He can get to the basket. He's creative with the ball. He can pass it. He can handle it. He's willing to share it. He can score it.

But who is Exum? Who, who, who, who?

On Friday, his poise exceeded the life experiences etched on his young face. He said all the right things, and he seemed to mean them.

He said he was pleased to be with the Jazz, eager to get to work and to learn and to win. He said he couldn't really be compared to any other player: "I like to use my quickness and my speed — on defense and getting into transition."

Asked point-blank who he is, he answered: "I'm Dante Exum. I'm just a kid from Melbourne, Australia, here to play basketball."

He added: "I'm a chill, down-to-earth guy."

He also said he'll use the mystery surrounding his name and game to push him forward: "It motivates me. I know I can play."

He said there are misperceptions about Australia, foremost among them: "We don't put shrimp on the barbie."

And he used expressions that no NBA player not from Australia has ever said, such as: "I was having a laugh."

Exum's mom, Desiree, was on hand to describe her son further: "He's a wonderful person. He's a very focused, determined, committed individual. He sets goals and he achieves them. He knows what he wants and he goes for it. He's only 18, but he's a thinker. He doesn't act without thinking it out. He never got in any major trouble. He's driven and he works hard. That's him. He's my son. I don't want him to change. When we flew in to Salt Lake City, it just felt right here."

Hood, we knew a little more about, having watched the 21-year-old play at Mississippi State and at Duke, alongside Jabari Parker. He was a great high school player out of Meridian, Miss., who scored points like a maniac and went on to make the All-SEC freshman team in 2012. Thereafter, he accomplished a rarity — it had only happened four times — by transferring to Duke. Mike Krzyzewski doesn't take transfers, but he made an exception in Hood's case because the kid, who sat out a year, could flat-out ball. Not only did Krzyzewski make an exception, he made Hood a team captain. The sophomore averaged 16 points, four boards and two assists in 2014, even as he subjugated his game to Parker's.

He's 6-8 and can straight-up dust the net from deep.

On Friday, he, too, was poised and together.

"I'm a Southern guy," he said. "A guy who loves the game. A guy who's going to come to work every day. A guy who can shoot the ball. A guy who wants to win."

Enter Vicky Hood, the player's mom, who also happened to be his no-nonsense principal in grade school, junior high and high school.

"Rodney's been a mother's dream," she said. "He tries to do the right thing. Wherever he's been, people have gravitated toward him. It's because he's genuine. He cares about other people. He is what you see in front of you. We always taught him that character is what you do when nobody is watching. And he's humble. It's in his spirit."

Added Rodney: "I couldn't sleep last night. I just wanted to get here. ... I want to work hard and play ball."

Who are you guys? Who, who, who, who?

More complete answers will come in time. But first impressions were solid, rock solid. Now, about that other question: Can they play the NBA game?

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.