No Dante Exum in 2013-14? College Hoops Won’t Suffer Too MuchPosted by Chris Johnson on August 29th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
In the immediate aftermath of the Miami Heat’s thrilling seven-game victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, college and professional basketball fans alike directed their focus not at the player draft looming one week ahead, but at the 2014 draft – the one expected to be populated by the most talented recruiting class, featuring one of the most talented players, of the past decade. Speculation of various teams “tanking” was abundant and widespread. General managers assumed futuristic, pick-stacking, salary-shedding free agency strategies. “Wig-out for [Andrew] Wiggins” entered the lexicon. Everyone wanted to get in on the talent bounty waiting in the 2014 draft lottery. Rightfully so. By now, the biggest prospects basically roll off the tongue as a reflex: Kansas’ Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, among others. But there’s one name you might not be quite as familiar with. That name is Dante Exum, an Australian-born 6’6″, 188-pound slasher who had scouts swooning after stealing the show at the FIBA U-19 World Championships in the Czech Republic this summer (along with a standout performance at the Nike Hoop Summit), where he averaged 18 points per game, just under four assists, and dropped 33 points against a formidable team from Spain.
The NBA Draft chatter intensified, and Exum’s lottery bona fides soon hardened into a national scouting consensus, leaving little doubt he would join Wiggins and Randle and the like in upper reaches of the first round next June. Earlier this summer, ESPN.com draft insider Chad Ford ranked Exum third on his list of “Top 100 Draft Prospects” for 2014. The only lingering question about Exum, who is on track to finish his high school course work in October, making him eligible to enroll in any American university at the end of the fall semester, was whether he would bring his hyperbolically mythologized land-down-under skills to the Division I ranks for a few months before entering the draft. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman answered that question on Tuesday:
“Schools have been saying I can start in early December and play this season,” Exum told ESPN. “But if college is the option, I’ll stay in Australia, do workouts with the national team and then go to college next August. Playing this season in college is not an option.”
There is a chance Exum could bypass the 2014 draft and play one or more seasons of American college hoops starting next fall; Exum told Goodman he remains “50-50 on whether to bypass college or go to the NBA.” So if Exum does decide to play any amateur ball in the States, it won’t be this season (international players like Exum face a withdrawal deadline 10 days before the June 26 draft. He could conceivably verbally commit to a school sometime between now and next summer, then renege on the commitment and enter the draft anyway. Something to keep in mind). The idea of Exum joining a national contender in December, leading it to soaring conference and NCAA Tournament runs, and leaving college hoops after a whirlwind “half-and-done” (I’m copyrighting this term, by the way) career would have been great. Maybe Exum would have dominated college competition to the point of challenging Wiggins’ near-undisputed status as the front-runner for the No. 1 pick next summer. But guess what? The 2013 recruiting class is already insanely good, and worlds ahead of the lackluster group that flooded the college game last season. Scouts have reiterated on end not only how precociously talented the 2013 class is at the top, but how staggeringly deep it is throughout, with impact prospects speckled across various leagues. Throwing Exum, technically classified as a 2014 recruit, into the mix, even for half a season, would have given this freshman group the top-end foreign flair it didn’t, and still doesn’t, have. But is it really fair to complain about one freshman’s decision not to play American college hoops, when the abundance of first-year talent entering the game is already better than anything we’ve seen over the past decade?
College hoops was going to be great regardless of whether Exum became the most hyped mid-season transfer in recent memory. Exum won’t be playing college basketball in America this season (he might never), but when he does finally reach the continental US, there is a strong possibility he’ll be joined by the same 2013 mega-recruits all but guaranteed to light up college hardwoods this season. The NBA awaits. College hoops loses out. It stinks, but it’s not the end of the world. The prospect of a 2013-14 season with an historically good freshman class and a score of talented returners remains awesome.
My reaction to this news: a slightly perturbed shrug. Nothing more.