How bad do NBA agents want to represent Australian basketball standout Danté Exum, who's considered a consensus lottery pick in this year's NBA draft? Just hear it from his father, Cecil.
"The agent meetings are over, but they are calling in full force to get the job," he told Bleacher Report this week. "We should make a decision by the end of the month."
According to one agent, Exum is hearing the case for college versus the NBA from two noteworthy Australian basketball players: the Golden State Warriors' Andrew Bogut and Luc Longley, who won three league titles with the Chicago Bulls. While Bogut has supported the potential NBA transition, Longley has recommended college for enjoyment and development. Both NBA players attended Exum's former high school-related program, the prestigious and scholarship-required Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
Four of the agents who met with Exum in Australia—there are a total of eight American agencies involved—told Bleacher Report that they believe he will enter the draft, bypassing college and electing not to play in the country's National Basketball League, where the best players make around $200,000 per season. (Agents' impressions of Exum's NBA plans also were reported earlier this week by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.)
"It appears he's going to the league just based on the agent activity," one agent said. "If you're a top-five or top-10 pick, you also shouldn't risk injury by going to college."
Exum's college candidates are Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Oregon. He has only toured Indiana so far. Bleacher Report recently gained insight into this and other aspects of Exum's present and future while spending a week with the 18-year-old in Australia.
In discussing Exum's draft decision, former NBA point guard Randy Livingston, who now runs a Melbourne-based scouting service helping connect local players to American coaches and college programs, said Exum should take advantage of his high June projection.
A big reason why the NBA piques Exum's interest is because it's a point guard-friendly league. His dream teams are the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, as he's friends with Victor Oladipo—they met at Indiana during Exum's recruiting visit—and Kobe Bryant is one of his two favorite players (the other is Derrick Rose).
Livingston, who has shared notes on the 6'6", 190-pound Exum with several NBA general managers, said Exum has the makings of a future star and sees strands in his game of Michael Carter-Williams (overall skills and body frame), Dwyane Wade (half-court attacking) and Russell Westbrook (open-court speed and finishing ability). One agent liked the Carter-Williams comparison, and also thought of Shaun Livingston (body frame and pick-and-roll playmaking).
"It's so effortless for (Exum)," the agent said. "He gets from point A to point B quick, and he's a basketball player."
Another agent said Exum, who can also post up and play off the ball, is "right in the conversation" with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and the other top prospects.
"Dante, from what I've seen, is a world-class talent," the agent said, "and he has international experience. He's played against top players, he's traveled internationally—that says a lot. That's a great preparation. You see guys like (Manu) Ginobili or Dirk Nowitzki or Steve Nash; they've had similar backgrounds. Tony Parker. They played on different continents in different styles of basketball, and I think that's a great preparation for the rigors of the NBA."
Off the court, some of the agents think Exum could be the most marketable player from the draft. They raved about his demeanor, saying he comes across like a seasoned pro and that he was insightful and inquisitive during the meetings.
Exum speaks with eloquence, has an infectious and talkative personality and demonstrates a calm and friendly presence with fans. He's also a huge student of the game and breaks down game film like an NBA scout. With that mindset, Exum led his own two-hour basketball skills session for kids at AIS without any assistance from his coaches. In fact, he said if he plays in the NBA, he'd still want to return to his home base every summer to run youth clinics.
For agents considering Exum's NBA potential, his family is a big part of the package. It all starts with the friendly, down-to-earth Cecil, who played at North Carolina with Michael Jordan. Cecil was then drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1984 and went on to hoop professionally in Sweden and Australia.
"The thing that Cecil has is his previous exposure to (former UNC teammates) Sam Perkins and James Worthy, so he's been around," an agent said. "I think that (the family) can look at how their careers have taken shape.
"If you have a kid like this and you're in the U.S. and you're in a big city, you're going to hear all kinds of stuff (about the NBA). They're not affected by that necessarily. So while they're a little naive because they're not in it, they're also savvy because they're Americans and Cecil played professional and has a lot of friends who played professional, like Kyrie Irving's dad, Drederick."
Exum's family includes his mother, Desiree; his twin sister, Tierra, who's 18 minutes younger; and an older brother, Jamaar. They scheduled his agent meetings during the holidays so that Desiree—who met Cecil at UNC—would be home from her full-time job in Singapore.
One key question looking ahead: Could Bogut's presence influence the family's decision?
According to one agent, Bogut's One Management sports and entertainment marketing firm in Australia has been looking to team up with one of the major American agencies, which hopes his status and advice as a former top draft pick in 2005 will persuade Exum to sign with them.
"Andrew gave him some advice, saying, 'Just be smart. Once you have a high image, all you can do is go down,' " an agent said. "In Andrew's case, he was highly regarded. He was the MVP for the World Junior Championships that were in Greece in 2004, and he went straight from there to Utah. But I think if Andrew would choose it again, he actually might actually have not gone on to college because his first year was a tough year; it was a transition year for him. His second year with a new coach, he blew up and went on to become No. 1 overall."
Overall, the agents have been using their connections to Australian basketball players to pitch their services to Exum—for example, Chris Anstey, coach of the NBL's Melbourne Tigers, and Joe Ingles, who now suits up in Israel. While Exum has mentioned Longley as a close mentor—one agent said the former Bulls center has expressed interest in getting involved as an advisor—Bogut holds more clout on the business side and is more aware of the modern-day NBA lifestyle.
Even as Exum is mentioned as a potential top-five pick, one agent thinks he is "hard to evaluate." AIS' training amenities rival that of an NBA team, but Exum has mostly faced lower competition in the country, where basketball is not as popular as Aussie rules football, cricket and rugby.
"I haven't seen him enough to know," another agent said. "I know NBA people love him and rave about him, and I know he was great in some of the international stuff and the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, and I know his father played at North Carolina. It's just an individual question of is he ready, number one; if not, does he go to college? Then they'll just break him down. Just look at James McAdoo. He was a top-five pick after his freshman year; now, he's not even a first-rounder. So it's a double-edged sword; it can work both ways."
Exum has improved his shot working with established AIS coach Paul Goriss on the advanced Shooting Gun machine, while using video analysis to compare his form and technique with Miami Heat star Ray Allen. While some of the agents have questions about his skill set, he's coming from a school setting that's produced NBA players Bogut, Longley, Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers).
All of the agents said the priority with Exum, if he signs a representation agreement, is to set him up with a premier training center in the states. That way, he'd be able to work out against former NBA players and with trainers who are more knowledgeable of the pre-draft process. Each of the eight agents have a relationship with a top-flight facility, such as Impact Sports, IMG Sports Academy and the Peak Performance Project (P3).
Agents also agree on how they'd structure Exum's prospective NBA team workouts. Their focus? Less the better to show GMs, which is how it's been done in previous years—even for Bogut.
"If you're a top pick, you're only going to work out against either a top pick or nobody," an agent said. "And any smart agent would do this. When Bogut went to Milwaukee for his workout, it was between him and Marvin Williams to be No. 1 overall. I wouldn't let Andrew work out against anybody. They just got a chance to watch him run up and down the floor and take some shots—that's it."
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