Dante Exum's hard work is starting to pay off. Having regained his place in the Utah Jazz rotation over the past few weeks, Exum was rewarded with a place in this morning’s Rising Stars Challenge.
Exum played 19 minutes, finishing with 11 points and four assists for the World team.
“It was good,” Exum said postgame. “Everything you expect in that type of game. Not much defence in the first half, but it was a good fun game.”
Exum’s World team secured a 150-141 victory and that means the Australian finishes his Rising Stars career with a perfect record
“It was great. That’s 2-0 for me at All-Star so I’m happy with that."
While his World team secured victory, the result was secondary to the fact Exum was simply in the game. We asked him whether being selected for the Rising Stars Challenge provided a sense of validation after a challenging 18 months.
“Yeah, 100%. I worked so hard last year trying to get healthy. To miss a full year, come back and be invited again is an honour. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Regaining full health and learning to trust his body again is something Exum has clearly battled with all season. Exum spoke about his surgically repaired left knee and whether he now feels comfortable with his body.
“Yeah, 100%. I feel comfortable right now with everything that’s going on.”
With health now secure, Exum is ready to focus on improving the technical aspects of his game.
“The biggest thing I’ll keep working on is attacking the basket with the second unit. Just to come out and have an offensive mindset."
A healthy body also means we can expect to see more highlights like this filthy poster from Thursday morning.
In what possibly passed for the best moment of the interview, Exum was asked to describe what that dunk felt like.
“It felt good. Jumping off the left too, my surgery knee, it felt really great. Jumping off it. I’ve been a bit hesitant jumping off it. I usually jump off two feet so it felt good."
Exum's All-Star teammate Gordon Hayward spoke to the media in New Orleans and was asked to describe what he has seen from Dante this season.
"He’s had a tough stretch there with what happened to him. I’m happy the last couple of games that he’s played really well.
“He’s just out there competing. He’s being a lot more aggressive. It really is only his second year because of the injury so for him to do what he’s done this year, I’m just proud of him.”
Hayward then spoke on what improvements he has seen from Exum this season.
‘Like I said, he’s being a lot more aggressive and attacking the basket. It seems like he can get into the paint whenever he wants.
“His decision making is going to be the next step for him, making the right reads as far as his floater or kicking out to other people. But he can get into the paint whenever he wants.”
The lighter side
Now that the serious part of the weekend is over with, Exum is free to enjoy the festivities down in New Orleans.
“I plan to stay here for the whole weekend,” Exum noted. “I’ll be here to watch Gordon in the All-Star and the skills competition tomorrow.”
“Just going to enjoy the weekend with Mardi Gras, it’s a cultural experienced I’ve never had.”
The young Australian will now become a cheerleader and help support Hayward in his first All-Star appearance. As for Saturday’s festivities, Exum offered up his hot tips.
“I hope Gordon wins the skills. Probably for the three-point I’ve got Klay Thompson. Then the dunk competition, that’s the easy one with [Aaron] Gordon .”
Fellow Australian Thon Maker is also in town to assist with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp, and an Aussie reunion could be on the cards.
“Yeah, I actually saw him last night. We plan to catch up and I’ll see where he’s at. We caught up when he came and played in Salt Lake. We play them right after All-Star too.”
Despite being on the other side of the world, Exum was still representing the AFL and his hometown Essendon Bombers.
Some things will never change.
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