Spain remains the leading chief exporter in elite hoops talent outside of US borders, and Canada is the emerging pipeline, however, Australia has also begun funneling talent onto American soil at an increasing rate. Pardon the shameless pun, but the Boomers hoops export business is booming.
In 2008, there were 33 Aussie blokes playing Division I men's hoops. According to pickandroll.com.au there are currently 54 men on Division I college hoops rosters. There are only 4.5 Australians on NBA rosters which is actually higher than my best Price Is Right showcase estimation.
Thursday night was an exhibition of the small inroads Aussie basketball players have made into the NBA, when Golden State center Andrew Bogut and San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills played a combined 66 minutes on Thursday night. Reserve forward Aron Baynes also stepped into the starting lineup for the first time this season and played nine minutes, but Mills and Bogut were major playmakers in San Antonio's 104-102 victory over Golden State.
It’s been nearly nine years since Utah center Andrew Bogut was selected first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Bogut’s career has probably seen its best days. Mills may never be a star, but on Tony Parker’s snow days he’s proven to be a valuable 20 and 5 guy.
The mysterious half of an Australian I referred to previously is Uncle Drew’s nephew Kyrie Irving. Irving was raised in New Jersey, but has dual Australian citizenship because he was born there while his father—Uncle Drew’s much younger brother— was playing international ball in Melbourne. If Irving’s father decided to stay, Irving would probably have been the model for 18-year-old Australian Dante Exum’s transition to college basketball or the NBA.
Dante's father Cecil was a teammate of Michael Jordan for three years in Chapel Hill but after a successful career in Australia's NBL, Cecil remained Down Under, settling in Melbourne. The younger Exum's legend sprouted after he scored 25 fourth quarter points in an exhibition against ex-college stars — when he was 15. During this summer's FIBA World Championships, Exum punished Spain, Lithuania, Serbia, Russia and China with 24 points per game.
Since then, Exum has become Andrew Wiggins Down Under with just a tenth of the media hype machine. Wiggins earned a Sports Illustrated cover comparing him to Danny Manning and Wilt Chamberlain.
The most extensive profile on Exum is Chris Mannix’s 1,200 word profile in December 9’s issue of Sports Illustrated. Wiggins played high school hoops in West Virginia and battled on the AAU circuit for years against his peers. His head-to-head battles with Julius Randle at the 2012 LeBron James Skills Academy and Nike Peach Jam a few days later became the stuff of YouTube legends.
While Wiggins arrived with a bang on the collegiate level, Exum may be infiltrating the college hoops ranks beneath the radar.
Exum’s name is as recognizable to American hoops fans as Ed Palubinskas.
Thirty-three years after, Palubinskas became the first Aussie to leave a crater in the college basketball landscape, Exum could be prepping to make his own crash landing.
Like the unopened Grand Theft Auto V box juxtaposed beside my Xbox 360 for the past two months, Exum is 6-6 and 190 pounds of lean, sinewy kinetic potential. Exum just as capable of dishing 15 assists as he is of cracking 30 points.
Last year, at this time The Shadow League was giving Michael Carter-Williams the superstar stamp of approval. One year later, Australia is about to release an MC-Dubb upgrade into the hoops wild. The question is whether he’ll seek shelter at the NBA Draft or during college basketball’s signing period.
He’s the rare prospect whose basketball IQ, shooting stroke and rudimentary skills are so refined that his sheer athleticism gets overlooked.
In the coming weeks, Exum will be making another round of college recruitment visits to Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, UNC and Oregon. This list isn’t old. It was the same one he reportedly whittled his choices down to back in August.
If Exum had chosen to play college basketball, he would have been eligible to play this month. Instead, he may have missed a year of development and elite coaching. However, that’s a moot point now. Exum’s peers made their college debuts months ago, but it does raise a few red flags that he avoided the freshman fray. He’s never been seen competing against elite competition consistently.
There’s a reason that St. Marys, LSU and Utah, which have been common destinations for Australian prospects, are absent from Exum’s list. In 2008, St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett told Sports Illustrated that mid-majors and non-powerhouses are able to pluck commitments because they rarely understand the difference between a school like St. Mary's and a blue chip program like UCLA, and the coaches don’t alert them to the prestige disparity.
What makes Exum different from Bogut, Baynes, Mills or Irving’s teammate Matt Dellavedova, is that his father is American-born and very cognizant of the college basketball hierarchy.
Here is how he would hypothetically have impacted the five teams he is visiting for next season if he had pulled an Andre Drummond and enrolled in time for the 2013-14 season.
At Michigan, he'll be a valued for his skills as a distributor. Last season, they advanced to the Final Four on the backs of the nation’s best offense and the court leadership of point guard and National Player of the Year Trey Burke.
Kentucky appears too cluttered to take in another foster All-American, until you remember that they were actually holding out for the addition of Andrew Wiggins until last May.
Exum’s combo guard ability would essentially render the Harrison twins obsolete. The Wildcats have struggled integrating the freshman they have but Exum may be an upgrade over the brick-laying shooting inefficiency and turnover prone playmaking skills of point guard Andrew Harrison. Just to give you an idea on how young Exum is. If he had ended up on the Wildcats roster, he’d be the youngest player on the roster by over six months.
Oregon is the outlier in that they’re not a powerhouse, but it goes to show that he either has great tastes, Dana Altman is an extremely effective recruiter or that Phil Knight’s influence extends to six other continents. Exum would have cramped guard Joseph Young’s style, and would have played off ball. More importantly, Exum’s presence would have attracted more attention to Oregon’s 10-0 start.
On the heels of Victor Oladipo’s departure, Indiana’s 2-guard position has lacked the same talent and production. Exum would have been an excellent backcourt partner alongside sophomore Yogi Ferrell.
Ultimately, Dante’s father’s alma mater UNC may miss the man who was never there most in the absence of recently reinstated guard Leslie McDonald. Marcus Paige has been shouldering the load on the perimeter for the Tar Heels and it seems like it’s been years since Roy Williams procured a commitment from a top-10 recruit that has actually lived up to expectations.
Most likely, the images of him playing college basketball will remain figments of our imaginations. Highlights exist, but real hoop-heads want to see him in an elite team setting. That won't occur until 2014, when he'll turn up stateside ready to prove he's the real deal and more superman than myth.