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.”