In 2005, when Andrew Bogut was a sophomore at Utah, the school ran a campaign for the 7-foot Australian to be voted All-American. Bogut was dubbed “The Awesome Aussie” and pictured on a boomerang.
Apparently there were no kangaroos on the Utah campus to photograph Bogut with at the time.
Now another Australian has come to the state. But Dante Exum isn’t playing for the Utes. He’s a member of the Utah Jazz and in search of a nickname — but without stereotypes, if you don’t mind.
That said, perhaps the Jazz can borrow the old Bogut campaign slogan and let Exum, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-6-inch guard from Melbourne who played at the Australian Institute of Sport, become “The Awesome Aussie.”
Seems harmless enough.
“Everyone’s trying to give me a nickname,” Exum said with a laugh at the Vegas Summer League at UNLV. “Just call me ‘Dante.’ Or ‘D.’”
The mystery man of this year’s NBA Draft, Exum was out of sight and out of mind for most fans. But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey kept close tabs on him.
Lindsey had seen Exum play in the Nike Hoop Summit and the FIBA Under-19 World Championships last year and was intrigued by the possibility of teaming Exum with Trey Burke, who was an NBA All-Rookie first-team selection last season.
And when the Philadelphia 76ers passed on Exum with the third pick, Lindsey knew Exum probably would be on the board when the Jazz picked at No. 5, after the Orlando Magic. Sure enough, Exum was there, and the Jazz had their man.
“We think it’s a great fit with what we’re trying to do,” Lindsey said. ‘He does a lot of things well, and we think he can help us in a variety of ways. And he’s a really good person who comes from great parents who raised him right.”
Exum also has an effervescent personality. The night he was drafted, he appeared on a couple of commercials for Foot Locker that showed him making fun of himself and being a bit of a ham.
“My friends don’t think I’m funny,” he said. “But I do. I enjoyed doing the commercials. My agent set it up. He thought it would be a good way to introduce myself to America.”
Exum knows he has plenty to adjust to on and off the court. He thinks he’ll enjoy living in Salt Lake City as he learns to live in a new country and a different culture. He also knows he needs to get stronger physically to compete in the NBA.
“It’s a little quicker and a little more physical than I’m used to,” he said of the summer league. “But I feel comfortable out there. It’s basketball. You go out and play and you adjust.”
He has a bit of an unorthodox release on his jump shot, somewhat like Shawn Marion’s. Exum said he knows defenders get up on shooters quicker in the NBA, so he has to learn to create space for himself and shoot quicker. In three summer league games, Exum has averaged 7.3 points and 3.0 assists but made just 2 of 9 3-point tries.
But he has gotten the ball to teammates. On Monday against Milwaukee, he made a head fake and crossover dribble move that left the Bucks’ CJ Williams grasping at air and the fans in the Thomas &Mack Center oohing. He’s averaging 3.0 assists for the 2-1 Jazz and seems to have the pick-and-roll component down.
“I’m getting more comfortable with my teammates,” Exum said. “I’m learning where they like to have the ball, and I’m trying to get them involved in the offense.”
He’s also having fun in Las Vegas. Exum turned 19 on Sunday, and as part of his birthday celebration, he took a spin on the High Roller observation wheel at the Linq. He posted a picture on Instagram of him at the top of the wheel.
“I love all the lights,” he said of Las Vegas. “It’s an exciting city.”
And while Exum is already creating excitement for Utah fans who have shown up in large numbers for the summer league, Lindsey wants to be careful concerning expectations for the rookie.
“We just want him to develop naturally and let nature take its course,” he said. “Players are like water — they always find their level — and we believe in time Dante will find his.”
Perhaps he’ll reach the “Awesome” level and can earn that nickname.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.