Pitbull, the ubiquitous rap star, may be known as Mr. Worldwide. But he has nothing on burgeoning Australian basketball star Dante Exum.
The 6-5, 190-pound Exum is the son of former University of North Carolina basketball player Cecil Exum. The younger Exum has spent his formative years in Australia, but he is becoming somewhat of an international sensation as he has circled the globe playing for the Australia Institute of Sport.
The only question seems to be whether this combo guard will spend time at an American college before possibly entering the 2014 NBA draft. Some are talking about Exum as a possible lottery pick in that draft.
At the same time, Indiana, Kentucky, defending national champion Louisville and many others have offered Exum a scholarship.
“My ultimate goal -- like any young player playing basketball -- is to get to the NBA,” Exum said via an e-mail interview from Italy, where he was attending the adidas Eurocamp. “But I have always had the dream to play college ball, too. My ultimate decision of where i will go next year will depend on whether or not I'm ready to play professionally.
“My father always influenced me to play basketball and, through that, I grew a love for the game.”
Cecil Exum is a native of Dudley, N.C. He played college basketball at UNC from 1980-84 and joined a young Michael Jordan on the Tar Heels’ 1982 national championship team. His father moved to Australia to pursue a professional career in the National Basketball League and later became a naturalized citizen of Australia. Cecil Exum played seven seasons in the NBL.
“His dad came here to play and stayed here,” said Ian Stacker, head coach of the AIS basketball squad.
Dante Exum grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but has been six hours away in Canberra as he attended the AIS the last couple of years. He will turn 18 years old in July.
Exum had 16 points as the World Team beat the US in the Nike Hoops Summit
According to Stacker, the AIS team goes all over the planet in search of top competition.
“We tour,” Stacker said. “We don’t play in a regular league. We go and play internationally. They were just in Lithuania and the Czech Republic. Last month, they were in China. Last year, they were over in the states and played in the Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas.”
Exum said this experience has helped him grow both athletically and culturally.
“It is a great experience,” Exum said. “Playing different countries on the world stage enables me to develop my game and create an understanding for how other players play around the world and to be able to implement new things in to my way of playing.”
A Shooting Star
Exum’s stock took a quantum leap after his appearance for the World Team in the Nike Hoops Summit in April in Portland, Ore.
Playing alongside Kansas signee Andrew Wiggins of Canada, Exum helped lead the World Team to a 112-98 rout of Team USA. That U.S. team included Duke signee Jabari Parker and Kentucky signees Julius Randle as well as Andrew and Aaron Harrison.
In 22 minutes, Exum had 16 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. He was 6 of 8 from the floor (1 of 2 on threes) and 3 of 5 at the foul line.
“After the Hoop Summit, my recruiting for college picked up a whole lot,” Exum said. “I had new colleges contacting me and colleges I had already expressed interest showing even more interest.”
Following his play at the Hoops Summit, Exum rose to No. 18 in the 2014 class and to No. 3 in the point guard rankings on 247Sports.com.
“Exum is one of the most intriguing prospects in recent years because of his draft eligibility but also because of his stated desire to play college basketball in the U.S. prior to playing in the NBA,” said Jerry Meyer, the national basketball recruiting editor for 247Sports.com.
“He showed exceptional ability in the Nike Hoop Summit game when the International team beat the USA squad. He just hasn't had much exposure here other than that game. Regardless, he is a sure fire five-star prospect who will likely be regarded as underrated by national scouts.”
Exum had hoped to have a big showing at the Eurocamp this past week. But a stress fracture limited him to just shooting drills.
A Unique Combination (Guard)
Exum brings more value for an American college team as well as for wherever he may land in the pros because he can play both the point guard and shooting guard positions.
“I am a long combo guard who loves to get to the basket and draw others to get teammates open for shots,” Exum said. “Leading a team on and off the court has become a strength also for me.”
Stacker described what makes Exum a special prospect.
“He can play the one or the two,” Stacker said. “He is probably more of a one. He has true speed. He is very quick, even by the standards of the American college kids. He is also very quick off his feet and he can finish well on drives to the basket.
“I think he has good basketball skills, but I think what puts him in the elite category and separates him is he just has beautiful speed.”
That speed allows Exum to push the issue in the open court, Stacker said.
“He likes to push the ball up the floor and explore early scoring opportunities,” Stacker said. “(He) runs the team well in the half court and plays with great smarts off the on-ball screen.”
Asked what American basketball fans will expect to see from him, Exum said, “A leader who is always looking to win by any way possible.”
A Bright Future
Exum’s next big event will be playing for Australia in the under-19 World Championships June 27-July 7 in the Czech Republic. After that, he will work for a spot in Australia’s senior national team.
“My itinerary for the rest of the summer is to complete the under-19 World Championships with a good result,” he said. “Then I will head back to Australia to participate in the national team camps and hope for selection to qualify against New Zealand for the FIBA World Championships.”
These next few weeks will be critical for Exum and his family as he plots out where he will be for the next year. He figures to graduate from AIS in November and could then enroll at an American college. Or he could stay home and train extensively to prepare for pre-draft workouts.
“I can’t speak for the family,” Stacker said. “The under-19 World Championships are coming up in July. I think they’re going to see how he goes at those championships. I guess there has been talk about him going into the 2014 NBA draft. I think the main time NBA scouts will be able to see him will be the under-19 World Championships.
“I think the plan all along was for him to go to an American college. There have also been suggestions that he’d be better off by staying here and then entering the draft next year. I think it will depend on how he does in these events and then what the vibe is for the 2014 draft.”
If he does decide to attend an American college, Exum has several top programs in mind. It is possible he could be a midyear enrollee in January 2014. And, depending on where he may sign, he could be the last piece for somebody's 2014 national championship puzzle.
“Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky have been three of the big name schools who have expressed a lot of interest in me,” Exum said. “At the start of the year, I visited Indiana and it was a great to see and experience of what a top program like Indiana was doing to develop players on the court and in the classroom.
“I have mostly been texting and using Facebook to communicate the schools recruiting on a weekly basis to keep in touch, with the occasional call. And that has given me the opportunity to learn more about their program from afar.”
Exum said his parents have told him they think spending time at an American college would be beneficial.
“They think it will give me an opportunity to have a great experience of college life and get an education,” he said. “I have been living away from home since I was 15 and have become used to using Skype and phoning them.
“On the plus side, I would be close to my extended family that I haven't seen a whole lot of and give them the chance to see me play.”
Exum said he knows the day is coming when he will have to make some critical decisions.
“I hope to have a decision for college by the end of this year,” Exum said. “And that can give me the decision if I want to go to school early January or start during the summer depending on what I have planned for my summer.”