He is the NBA’s International Man of Mystery, the least known and yet most intriguing player in Thursday’s draft. Dante Exum has only been seen on YouTube video by most basketball observers, and his pure talent and potential are likely to land him in the top five picks.
Exum is an Australian combo guard with the size to see over the defense, the skills to score with ease off the break, and the ability to dish when the defense collapses. If Exum had played at an American college, he could perhaps be the No. 1 overall pick, but the fact he remains an enigma and that international players have had uneven adjustments to the NBA puts him in the second tier of draft lottery prospects.
He joins Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon, and Noah Vonleh as players expected to be drafted from picks 4-7. The Orlando Magic have been targeting Exum to be their next point guard, perhaps joining Victor Oladipo for an imposing backcourt tandem.
Exum, the son of former North Carolina player Cecil Exum, is still three weeks short of his 19th birthday, making him an even more attractive prospect.
“The teams have an idea of what I am all about,” Exum said about his draft prospects. “But they’ve seen some of the college players play 40-game seasons and they haven’t seen me a lot. It has its advantages and disadvantages because they haven’t seen me since last July [in international play].”
Exum has been working out in Los Angeles since declaring for the draft, and he dropped a nugget on reporters. He is not the same player that is seen on those grainy YouTube videos.
“My game has changed a whole lot since those clips,” he said. “I am a get-to-the-rim-type of player and I guess that’s what puts me in a good position to be a point guard and that kind of vocal leader. I have that voice to say to [teammates] what needs to be done. I am the voice on the court for the coach.”
Exum said he never considered entering this year’s draft until his performance at the Under-19 world championships in the Czech Republic last July, where he averaged 18.2 points and 3.8 assists and was joined on the all-tournament team by draft prospects Gordon and Dario Saric, and incoming Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor.
“I just want these teams to get a feel for who I am as a person,” said Exum. “They have watched tape on me but they don’t know me as a person. I am just trying to take one step at a time and try to be humble in everything I’m going through at the moment and try to stay poised. In Australia, I didn’t get any of this [attention]. I think I have handled it well going into these interviews and I have tried to portray that I’m a mature young man and I am ready to take the next step.”
Roy Rana, who coached Exum and Andrew Wiggins to a victory for the World Team in the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit, said Exum will be an impact NBA player.
“I think whoever drafts Exum is going to be very, very pleased,” said Rana, who has coached the Canadian junior team the past two years. “He is a very gifted athlete in a different way. He may not be as vertically explosive as Andrew, but his quickness, his first step, his ability to explode and get into the [paint] is pretty unique and special. He can shoot the basketball. He has great size for a point guard but he’s got enough versatility to play off the ball.
“I think he can be a perennial All-Star in the NBA. He’s just that good. I can understand how people could be nervous because there’s not a lot of tape on him, but from what I’ve seen I think it’s pretty bankable he’s going to be a great player in the league.”
When asked if he relished his mysterious stature, Exum said, “Yeah, it is kind of fun, I guess. Nobody really knows me and everyone’s trying to get to know me and see who’s this kid from Australia. I think I’m ready for this situation and that’s why I’m here.”
Ex-Celtic star Walker seeks a job in league
Antoine Walker’s past financial issues have been well-publicized. He is trying to move forward, with aspirations of working as an NBA coach or scout. But the former Celtics star does not want his troublesome experience to be forgotten without a purpose. Walker is scheduled to release a documentary detailing his past in “Gone In An Instant,” which will premier Monday in Boston.
Walker earned $108 million in his career but was forced to file for bankruptcy. Those financial issues led to the premature conclusion of his career, and perhaps are the reason he is seeking work in the NBA. Walker has been brutally honest about his mistakes and his story has become the preeminent example of financial mismanagement.
“Over the last 3½ years, going through bankruptcy and going through trials and tribulations, it was good for me to finally get an opportunity to tell my story the proper way,” Walker said. “I was more excited to use this for a learning tool with younger guys coming up in the league and for youth coming up in general.”
Walker said he blew his money on various investments, excessive spending, and gambling. The documentary touches on Walker’s life beginning with his NBA rise, and details his mistakes and misdoings. Walker scored 11,386 points over eight seasons with the Celtics, being named to three All-Star teams. His last season as a full-time starter was at age 28 in 2004-05 with the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks. His last NBA game was at age 31.
“Now I think the way I look at it is as a negative story that could be used in a positive way,” he said. “In the past year and a half, I have been thinking of ways to try to turn this thing into a positive. So many people go through the fine print and read through the articles and never know what’s really going on with the situation. [I’ve been] given the opportunity to tell my story from my point of view so people can really understand what happened to me, get that black cloud off my head.”
Walker is restarting “The 8 Foundation” that he began with the Celtics, but the renewed emphasis will be on financial literacy and education. Walker has reached settlements on his bankruptcy and said he is financially stable.
“By me coming into the league at a young age, I really didn’t have a concept of money,” he said. “I thought a million dollars was a million dollars. I didn’t know it was $600,000. I never really understood taxes and investments and stocks and bonds. I want to give back to the youth so they can understand that. So many guys in the NBA coming into the league are so young and become millionaires at 18 or 19 years old.”
After his NBA playing days ended, Walker made the unusual decision to play in the NBADL and showcase his skills. But it never resulted in an NBA opportunity and Walker eventually retired. Walker has aspirations of coaching and actually told the Globe he was interested in the Celtics’ coaching position last summer before the club hired Brad Stevens.
“I’m wide open; I love the game of basketball and I’ve tried over the past few years to get back in,” he said. “And for whatever reason it hasn’t worked — maybe my [inexperience] — but now I’m seeing Derek Fisher [coach the Knicks], Jason Kidd [coach the Nets], and I think with my experience and my basketball knowledge and my intelligence, I can speak for myself and I think I am qualified in my sense.”
Walker is hoping the documentary offers some answers to some long-standing questions about his decisions. He said he did not gamble away all of his earnings, as had been rumored. Walker said he has lost a lot of friends during the past several years as stories about his excessive spending surfaced.
“I’m a loyal and faithful person and sometimes you build relationships with different guys in the league and it’s funny when you go through a financial problem, they tend to kind of go away,” he said. “It ain’t so much about financially giving me money or helping me out, it’s just a casual phone call to see how you’re doing, make sure you’re still alive, and that’s the part that’s most disappointing.
“It’s unfortunate that you do have people in the world that can’t reach out. Everybody bases everything on dollars and cents.”
Walker said being robbed “multiple” times also played a factor in losing his fortune. In 2007, he was robbed at gunpoint in his native Chicago and was bound in a closet while the masked men burglarized his home. The suspects were later charged after Walker testified at the trial.
“Of course it was very difficult, especially your home city,” said Walker, who still lives in Chicago. “I know Chicago’s getting a bad rap over the past few years, we’ve had a lot of crime, a lot of shooting, but this is a city I respect, I love, and I’m a Chicago kid until the day I die. It’s very difficult for me because I represent Chicago to the fullest, especially when things happen like that to me.”
Walker wanted his documentary to open in Boston. This is where he enjoyed his greatest professional years and where he is hoping the premier will represent the start of a new chapter. He holds hopes of one day working for the Celtics, and perhaps the documentary can help legitimize his comeback.
“I’m excited; I haven’t been to Boston a lot over the last few years but the support I got has been great,” he said. “I want the people in Boston to know the real story, the real nitty-gritty, and understand that I’m OK and I appreciate their support.”
San Antonio’s Buford excels without fanfare
R.C. Buford may be the most overlooked general manager in sports. He is hardly one to chase the spotlight. He represents the philosophy of his organization perfectly, allowing the team’s success do the talking, making astute moves such as signing Boris Diaw or acquiring Patty Mills with little fanfare as that duo contributed to a championship.
Buford talked about the future of the Spurs without Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, although they are likely to stay together at least one more season. Buford, a former assistant coach under Larry Brown and lead scout, is preparing for life after Duncan and Popovich — whenever that comes.
“The Spurs Way has been different over the course of time,” Buford said. “It’s been built to fit the strengths of our teams. [Popovich and I] grew up under Coach Brown, and Larry thinks there’s a wino on the street with a perfect out-of-bounds play. He’ll listen to anybody. And I think we grew up under that burden.”
While the journey has resulted in five NBA titles in 16 years, last year’s disheartening NBA Finals loss to Miami, when the Spurs led Game 6 by 5 points with 29 seconds to play before blowing the lead, was a source of agony for the entire organization. Popovich discussed that Game 6 during training camp, offering his team strong motivation to rebound this season.
“I don’t know if that’s left any of our minds but it’s not what we do or why we do it,” Buford said. “We’re trying to put our best team together. Those [players] are thrust into the moment more often than we are. But our commitment to this group doesn’t change because of last year. Our commitment is to put the best team together for them, and it’s fun to see them play well and have success.”
When asked about the post-Duncan and Popovich era, Buford said, “It will be numbing and challenging. Those are the people whom we’ve come to work with and battle with.”
The course of the organization changed in 1997 when the Spurs, with the fourth-best chance to win the draft lottery, cruised past the Celtics and landed Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick.
“The key has been getting Tim Duncan in the lottery and that didn’t have a damn thing to do with where we were scouting,” Buford said. “That rock was already turned over. Things changed in ’87 when David [Robinson] was drafted.”
While former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach and Framingham native David Blatt was hired on Friday as coach of the Cavaliers, an NBA source said that hire is not going to attract LeBronJames to consider returning to Cleveland. The source said the Cavaliers would “lose any real chance” at signing James, who has until June 30 to opt out of his contract with the Heat and become a restricted free agent. Former Celtics assistant Tyronn Lue was also a strong candidate for the position and the source said the Cavaliers would have had a better chance recruiting James with Lue at the helm. Lue is close to getting an NBA head coaching job just three years after joining the Celtics as part of Doc Rivers’s staff . . . Rivers, who was just bumped up to the Los Angeles Clippers’ president of basketball operations in the management shakeup after the departure of Donald Sterling, lost another assistant in Alvin Gentry, who left to become Steve Kerr’s top assistant with the Golden State Warriors. Gentry had also discussed jobs with the Utah Jazz and Cavaliers. Rivers, meanwhile, is likely to seek a former NBA coach to fill Gentry’s role as his “offensive coordinator” . . . The summer should be an interesting one for former second overall pick Michael Beasley, who is a free agent and is not likely to return to Miami after a disappointing second stint with the club. NBA sources said James was not pleased with Beasley’s focus and he lost the confidence of coach Erik Spoelstra shortly into the season. In one sequence that typified his career, Beasley swooped in for a tip-dunk in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. On the Spurs’ next possession, Beasley got lost on a pick-and-roll, allowing Diaw an open 3-pointer, which of course he swished. Beasley is likely to get a one-year deal on the open market and his past year in Miami did little to help his reputation . . . While the Jazz won a coin flip with the Celtics to get the fourth-most ping-pong balls in the draft lottery, the Celtics received the higher pick in the second round. NBA rules state that if one team wins a tiebreaker coin flip for a first-round pick, the losing team gets the higher second-round pick. Hence, the fourth pick of the second round goes to the Celtics, but that pick is owned by Dallas because of the Kelly Olynyk trade last year, meaning the Mavericks benefited slightly from the Celtics’ misfortune.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.