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Utah Jazz: Rookie Dante Exum impresses coaching staff early

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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz's Dante Exum and Rodney Hood during a press conference at the Zions Bank Basketball Center Friday June 27, 2014.

By Tony Jones

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 08 2014 09:12PM
Updated Jul 9, 2014 05:36PM

Dante Exum is still living out of his hotel room and suitcase.

His version of exploring Salt Lake City — to this point — has been the ride to the gym for workouts and back. With him and his Utah Jazz teammates heading to the Las Vegas Summer League this week, he probably won’t resume apartment hunting for at least a few weeks.

One other thing: He has to learn professional basketball, and learn it on the fly.

Since being drafted a few weeks ago, Exum’s life has been nothing short of a whirlwind as he acclimates himself to a new life and new surroundings. But he’s straddled the line of wide-eyed 18-year-old and mature basketball player with aplomb over the past few weeks with both pure talent and the ability to absorb quickly.

As the Jazz prepare for summer league with mini-camp this week, Exum’s been fed a lot over a short period of time. But he’s impressed his coaches and teammates with his willingness to learn, his basketball IQ and the advanced game that made scouts fall in love during the draft process.

"He’s fast," coach Quin Snyder said. "More than anything, he looks like he knows how to play. He kicks the ball head, he’s a willing passer, he knows how to play pick-and-roll. He’s a good player."

As Snyder watched practice Tuesday night, he noted how Exum and incumbent point guard Trey Burke worked well together. Each took turns as the primary ball-handler. Each took turns playing off the ball.

It’s something the Jazz envision during the regular season, their ability to play in the same backcourt in a dual-point guard role. Both will play significant minutes together in Las Vegas. Snyder, however, was emphatic in his desire for both of them to play well defensively, or they run the risk of warming the bench.

"Coach has been stressing defense a lot," Exum said. "That’s what I want to be able to go in and do. I want to go in and play hard. I want to help this team on defense and be able to turn defense into offense. I believe everything else will kind of take care of itself."

Most of Exum’s traits have been on display the past few days: His speed in the open court; his ability to get to the rim; and his ability to set teammates after getting into the lane off the dribble.

But for all of the talent, and for his engaging personality with the media, there’s still significant unknown with Exum that can’t be answered simply through workouts. He hasn’t played a fullcourt basketball game since last December. He’s yet to turn 19, and nobody knows how he will react under the pressure of a real game — even in summer league.

Most rookies, though, impress their coaches with raw ability. Exum impressed Tuesday with his knowledge and willingness to play within the system. Both — at this stage — are hard to accomplish quickly.

"He’s a good player and I think he can definitely play together," Burke said. "He’s easy to play with, and I think we could be a good tandem. It puts pressure on a defense when you have two guys who can be primary ball-handlers. It was good to sometimes bring the ball up, or sometimes go to the corner and spot up and let someone else do the work."

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