SALT LAKE CITY — Coach Quin Snyder already thought highly of Dante Exum when the Utah Jazz drafted him fifth overall last month.
But those impressions came from seeing game tape of Exum, and there wasn’t a whole lot of footage considering the young Australian didn’t play college ball and had limited experience and exposure outside of an international all-star game (Nike Hoop Summit) and two FIBA world tournaments for teens.
Tuesday marked the first day Snyder got to observe the soon-to-be 19-year-old Exum in an up-close working environment, as the rookie point guard and 14 other players began a mini-camp to prepare for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
“He’s fast,” Snyder said. “I think more than anything he really looks like he knows how to play.”
The new Jazz bench boss liked what he saw in his 6-foot-6 playmaker in pick-and-roll situations, in his ability to distribute the ball upcourt in transition, in the way he was “a willing passer” and, yes, in how he played alongside fellow point guard Trey Burke.
“Clearly, they’ve done a really good job teaching him in Australia. He knows how to play,” Snyder said of the Melbourne native. “There’s an aptitude that sometimes guys (have) — the game comes easy to them — and he’s one of those guys.”
Burke also likes what he’s seen so far in his new teammate, who figures to play with him in the backcourt at times and replace him at the point in stretches. Snyder pointed out a couple of examples of how they successfully worked in unison, passing back and forth in transition.
“I didn’t know him before he got drafted, but he‘s a really good player,” the returning All-Rookie Burke said of Exum. “He has a lot of potential. He’s still young, but his work ethic is going to allow him to continue to grow in this league. I definitely think we can play together.”
Exum, whose pre-draft hype was only matched by his hoops mystique, is just excited to be on the court in an NBA setting. He hadn’t played in an organized five-on-five basketball game since shortly after graduating from his Aussie high school near the end of 2013. Instead of going to college in the U.S., he relocated to Southern California, where he spent the five months leading up to the June 26 draft working out.
“It was good,” Exum said of his Day 1 practices at Zions Bank Basketball Center.
It was also his first real introduction to playing at 4,400 feet above sea level.
“We started just running up and down (and) the high altitude got to me a bit,” Exum said. “But the coaches (were) on the sideline stressing defense. I was trying to stay locked in and get through the practice.”
Exum recently returned from a family visit to North Carolina after a weekend in Utah for his introductory press conference at the end of June, so he hasn’t had a chance to find an apartment. That will happen after the Jazz wrap up their Summer League experience.
Exum hasn’t had much of a chance to get acquainted with his new surroundings in Salt Lake City, either, except for the drive from the hotel to the practice facility. He’ll know that even better after Utah wraps up this week of practices, including multiple two-a-day sessions.
While that settling-in period will eventually happen, Exum has his heart set on Saturday night. That's when the Jazz begin their summer action against Philadelphia at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“You don’t even know,” Exum said. “The training camp is good and everything. I love to get out on the court and learn to play with my teammates. I’m happy that we’ve got three more days and then we’re going to start playing together.”
When Vegas is in the rear-view mirror, Exum said he has another Jazz experience he’d like to have. When asked about the “Assisted” autobiography that’s visible on his bookshelf in an Instagram photo, the young athlete admitted he’d love to work out with the book’s author, John Stockton.
“I hope I get to talk to him and the Jazz bring him in and he gets to teach me a few things,” Exum said. “It’s something I want. I haven’t said yet (to the Jazz). It’s only my third day here.”
Exum’s dad, Cecil, a former basketball player, has told stories of rooming with the Hall of Famer when they were at the Portsmouth Invitational in 1984 before their pro careers. The elder Exum also talked about the way the legendary point guard patiently and persistently worked into being the player he became.
“My dad’s talked about him and how he did and how he got into the league. (Stockton) came in and he wasn’t the man right way,” the Jazz rookie said, referring to how No. 12 was Rickey Green’s backup for the first three and a half seasons of his career. “He worked his way up. You look at him and what he’s done over his career, you definitely look up to that.”
One other thing Exum looked forward to on his first day of practice in Utah?
Using the gift he received from Jazz center Derrick Favors — a bottle of hair-care product named after his country.
“He gave me ‘Aussie’ shampoo, (which) I actually haven’t seen before,” Exum said, smiling. “I’m about to go hit the showers and test that out.”
NOTES: The Jazz announced their 2014 preseason schedule. It includes home games against the Blazers (Oct. 7), Clippers (Oct. 13) and Suns (Oct. 24) along with road contests in Portland (Oct. 9) and three outings in Los Angeles (Oct. 16-19). ... Nevada guard Jerry Evans is not able to participate with Utah in this Summer League because of an undisclosed medical condition. ... The Jazz will host a free scrimmage/practice Thursday (7 p.m.) at EnergySolutions Arena.
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