Calm and in control, Dante Exum sauntered up the court, ball bouncing up and down alongside him, rhythmically responding to his every whim. All of a sudden, before you, or his defender, knew what was happening, Exum had crossed over, switching gears as he did so. A second later an “ooohhhh” was echoing around the half-empty Thomas and Mack Center—from a crowd, though full of Jazz fans, that was always on the verge of falling asleep—after Exum converted a nifty reverse layup.
This kind of scene played out time and again last night, as Dante Exum mesmerized bloggers and fans alike in his Utah Jazz debut. With Salt Lake City just a few hundred miles from Las Vegas, there was a large contingent of Jazz fans in attendance to see the mysterious teenager tasked with helping turn the once great franchise around.
It’s a strange thing when the fifth overall pick is a virtual unknown coming into Summer League, but Exum is one of those rare cases due to his being just a 19 year-old Australian. Except for appearances in FIBA World Cups with Australia and playing in the Nike Hoop Summit last year, the vast majority of people outside his country had seen little to nothing of the young point guard. And even though he came to the combine a few months ago, he didn’t participate in any drills.
As for myself, just a few minutes into yesterday’s game, it was already the most I’d seen of Exum. And after that brief introduction, I was all in (Poker reference in Vegas. #nailedit). He got off to a great start, throwing down an alley-oop just a few minutes in, and late in the fourth quarter he cashed a three to tie the game at 68-68. Though the Jazz ended up losing the contest, this wasn’t about losing or winning—nothing at Las Vegas Summer league is. It was about getting to see the first step of Exum’s NBA journey–one that promises to be long and entertaining.
You never know how things are going to play out, and as always, the caveat that “this was only summer league” is necessary. But walking out of Thomas and Mack into the boiling Las Vegas night surrounded by literally dozens of Jazz fans, one thing was clear: Dante Exum isn’t going to be an unknown commodity for much longer.