The NBA is the ultimate destination for any baller. Shane Heal, Andrew Gaze and Mark Bradtke blazed the trail for Aussie talent in the 90s, while Luc Longley famously brought home a fistful of silverware with the Bulls. In modern times, Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills have well and truly made it to the bigtime. Now there's a new breed on the rise and the name of the game is Danté Exum. Having signed a deal with adidas before he even had a team, Exum was pick five in the NBA Draft, an amazing feat for a teenager from Melbourne. Currently gearing up for the FIBA World Cup in Spain, we were lucky enough to talk sneakers, basketball and life with the man himself.
You were selected with pick number five in the NBA Draft. When did you know you were going to Utah?
I really didn't know where I was going. I was with my family enjoying the draft but as the night went on and it hit the third pick, I knew I was going to the Jazz. I got a call from Coach Quin Snyder and he talked me through how they were going to develop me as a player. With his background it made me feel really good about going to Utah.
Coach Snyder is a graduate of Duke, a rival team to your father's fabled North Carolina outfit. What role do you think you will play for the Jazz?
Coach Snyder said, 'It's my first year as coach, so we're both going to learn together.' He sat down with me before Summer League and basically told me not to worry about any of the expectations anyone has on me, we know this is going to be a process with developing me as I am still very young. I am just trying to speed up this process so I can start playing well.
This week you were selected to represent Australia at this year's Basketball World Cup. What predictions do you have going into the tournament?
Just a year ago I didn't know where I was going to be. I was planning on going to College and then it all happened so fast. Two of my strongest childhood dreams were to represent the Australian Boomers and play in the NBA. In the past six weeks, both those dreams have come true, so I really just can't wait to get on the court and start playing. It was a good feeling at the selection camp in Canberra, unfortunate to not have Patty Mills beside us, but he came down and showed his support to the boys. We have a tight group and everyone knows what the main goal is. The players are starting to learn their roles, so I think we have a good chance to place well.
You just came off Summer League in Las Vegas. How were the first on-court experiences being part of the big league, and adapting to the American game?
It's different going from a training situation to a game, definitely! I felt that a lot over the first few games, but for me it was about just trying to slow down and play the pace of the game, rather than do everything at 100 miles per hour. I think I adjusted pretty well. It's just about learning from each game.
You were born into a basketball family, your father Cecil came here to play in Australia and established a long career Down Under. What kind of guidance did your father give you?
Anyone that has a basketball coach as a dad, you would know that it's after those Friday night games, getting in the car after just playing a bad game, you don't wanna hear about it the whole ride home. (laughs) So I always loved travelling to games with my Mum. It was just him trying to make me a better player, and I realised that when I was growing up.
Did he get the old VCR out and was all, 'Now listen Danté, this is how you get it done!'
He showed me a couple of things on tape, but it was all about him getting on the court and really showing me what he did, what worked for him and how he was able to play over such a long, long career.
Pappa Exum also hooped at North Carolina through college, and played alongside the great Michael Jordan himself. Did he give you some words of advice on playing alongside and against superstars?
He talked about MJ's incredible work ethic and how he didn't get to be the greatest by luck. That's one thing I try and take into my game everyday and always try to improve on. Maintaining that work ethic and being able to work hard everyday.
Now we gotta stop you for a hot-minute, Danté, you're flip-flopping' between accents, going from 'adi-das' to 'a-dee-dus' and back. That's something we saw in the Foot Locker campaign that was running in the United States recently.
Haha! Whatever I hear, I say. Those commercials were fun. I'm from Australia, born here and raised, and I am never going to forget where I'm from.
Thanks to the campaign, you went from a relatively unknown basketball player to getting stopped in the streets everywhere. How have you handled your newfound fame?
Everyone loves the ads! I have had a lot of people come up to me in the streets, telling me they loved the commercial and my accent. They just know me as the 'runners guy' now, and the 'guy that just practices his autograph.'
We spotted you in Three Stripes in your junior days, and now you've joined the team, along with Derrick Rose and other NBA superstars. Do you feel at home there?
Adidas has been really good for me, not just since I signed with them, but I have gone through all their grassroots programs in the adidas Nations and that has really helped me to step my game up to the next level. Adidas has been great for me in my development.
Were you mad about shoes since you were a kid?
I always liked sneakers, but I never really bought them.
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Danté's Mum Interjects: Because I always bought them!
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Dante: Ha ha, yeah I had a few! Adidas is extremely good at hooking me up now and making sure I'm kept laced.
Is there confirmation on the sneak you will be starting your professional NBA career in?
I think it's going to be the Crazylight Boost. As soon as you put them on, you feel Boost straight away, the cushioning alone that it gives you. I have had some niggling-knee issues since my junior days, so hopefully it aids in keeping me fit and in good form for the future.
Is there anyone you're really looking forward to going up against?
I have always been a big Derrick Rose fan. He's been out for the last two years, but he's doing the USA basketball stuff at the moment and looking better than ever! I get a chance to hopefully go against him at the upcoming World Cup.