Aussies in NBA: Ingles and Exum on the new season ahead

A lot has changed in 12 months for Utah Jazz duo, Joe Ingles and Dante Exum.

Ingles has been to the Rio Olympics, where the Boomers came agonisingly close to winning a medal, and also welcomed his newborn twins to the world, Jacob and Milla.

Exum’s past year has been different, as he hasn’t had the publicity Ingles has. Instead, Exum spent majority of his time in a rehab room, recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last August.

Despite the past 12 months, Ingles and Exum now find themselves in the same position, with the same goal in mind – get the Jazz back into the playoffs. Every season, pundits single out teams that are the ‘sexy’ picks to make the playoffs; either a young core that has been building for years, or a team of veterans thrown together.

Utah fits into the former category, with as many as 10 ESPN experts predicting them to win the Northwest division. However, the Australian duo isn’t letting the hype get to them.

“We want to take it one game at a time,” Exum said, while speaking to Australian media on Friday morning.

“It’s an 82-game season and we don’t want get to get too far ahead and think about the playoffs. We have to earn it.”

Ingles: Starting a new season once more

While the Jazz’s journey to the playoffs didn’t get off to a positive start, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers 113-104 on opening night, Ingles is just happy to be back on the floor after a wild offseason.

“It’s a long offseason, as I was going back and forth with the Olympic team,” Ingles said.

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“I guess if you don’t make the playoffs, you usually have a pretty long summer.

“It’s good to get back. Preseason is good to get that feel back, but there is nothing like playing the real games.

“Our first home game [against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday afternoon AEST] is going to be pretty special.”

For Ingles, the birth of his twins has made his offseason even more hectic. Not only has the South Australian had to deal with the stress of the Olympic games and the grind of an NBA training camp, but managing two youngsters was also added to his list of offseason tasks. However, Ingles is grateful that his wife, Renae, is playing a major role and allowing Joe to focus on his Utah commitments.

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“Not too much to be honest,” Ingles said, when asked if his on-court routine has changed since the birth of his twins.

“I still go in and do what I need to do to be ready for the game, and do what I do in the offseason to be ready to come here. Renae is great at knowing the sport and what it takes to play at the high level.

“She knows the time I need at the gym to get to the level I need to get to, and she is fully supportive of that. We are also very lucky of the family and friends that have helped us out. We had a chat and it’s what everyone says - kids put a lot of things in perspective and you seem to worry about a lot less things than you used to.”

Even though his daily basketball program hasn’t changed, Ingles still acknowledged that it is a life changing experience, even if it has taken away some of the couple’s downtime, and his NBA League Pass watching.

“It’s a new thing for Renae and I, but it’s fine. You kind of find yourself staring at them most of the day,” Ingles said.

“They aren’t really doing too much but I find myself getting up at night with Renae. I’m obviously not breastfeeding but she’s pumping and I’m helping with that.

“I try to help Renae as much as I can. Life has changed, we can’t just get up and get out of the house or go to eat, but we are making it work.

“It is a pretty cool life changing experience.”

Exum: getting back on track

While Ingles was dealing with his newborns and making sure his family is ok, Exum was just trying to get himself healthy. Exum’s ACL injury came at a devastating time, as it wiped out his entire sophomore season and held him out of the Boomers’ Rio campaign. It was a long and gruelling period, but Exum is now ready, both physically and mentally, for an entire NBA season.

“I had so much rehab to get to this point right now and I’m prepared to get through the NBA season,” Exum said.

“[My knee is] feeling good and I’ve had no problems up to this point. You just got to continue to look after it, but when I’m on the court, I’m not thinking about it.

“It’s a bit of a different role, but to go from not playing last year and now have the opportunity to get on the court, is something I want to do.

“I’m just taking it one step at a time and I just want to take the opportunity to make an impact and get in a game. I think the time will come to get more consistent.”

Exum didn’t play much in the season opener. The 21-year-old appeared in just eight minutes, while playing behind the likes of George Hill, Rodney Hood and Shelvin Mack. With the injured Alec Burks yet to return, Exum will need to earn his minutes, as the Jazz are rolling out a stacked backcourt rotation. Exum will be ready to battle for his playing time, but for now, just getting back on the court is an enjoyable experience.

“The joy of being back on court,” Exum said, when asked what he loves the most about returning from injury.

“The warm ups, the anthem, the whole process of an NBA game and how it goes, that is the biggest joy of being back.”

Exum is appreciative, though, that coach Quin Snyder is allowing him to ease back into the flow of things.

“We had a lot of guys play well during that game [the season opener], so I think it’s going to be a situation where I need to come in and do my job, and go from there,” Exum said.

“That is important for me, so I don’t think they want to throw me in the deep end straight away.

“[Coach] has been telling me to keep doing what I’m doing. The biggest thing is the defensive end and to be that hustle player and not let my man score.”

Ingles: the battle for playing time

Ingles has also needed to fight for minutes, as the Jazz posses a lot of depth on the wings. While Gordon Hayward is out injured, Utah can still plug Joe Johnson into his spot. Meanwhile, Hood also has the ability to play at the small forward spot, as does, albeit to a lesser extent, Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles. Ingles doesn’t view this as a bad thing, though.

“It’s awesome and it is obviously something they looked at,” Ingles said of the team's wing depth.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve been hit by injuries and I’ve probably played more than I anticipated. When [Hayward and Burks] get back, I’m going to do whatever I can to support the team. Whether that’s playing a few minutes, or extended minutes, I’ll just do what I can.

“For me it’s not a worry. I just want to be part of a winning team and a winning team needs to be deep. When everyone is healthy, it’s only going to make our team better.”

Of mateship

As they battle for opportunities at their respective positions, Ingles and Exum have been by each other’s side during the rough times. In this situation, it means the 29-year-old Ingles has mentored Exum throughout his short, but emotionally draining, NBA career.

“He played all 82 games in his first year and that is very impressive for a rookie,” Ingles said.

“Then we are away with the Olympics and it was tough for him to miss that, but he did everything he could to be ready for the preseason.

“Obviously he wasn’t at the Olympics but to see him dig into his rehab, and I worked out with him a lot in Melbourne, to see him do everything he can was pretty impressive.

“He was unlucky with that injury to miss a lot of time, but I just told him to stay focused and keep on doing the right things.”

How about that NBA game in Australia?

Ingles and Exum are a part of the recent Australian NBA movement, with eight Aussies now playing in the league. The prospect of an NBA game being played Down Under is gaining more and more momentum, and the Jazz duo have been drivers behind the movement.

“I think there is a chance,” Ingles said of a game being played on Aussie shores.

Getting the Basketball Without Borders [BWB] camp, we pushed for that because there hasn’t been anything like that in Australia. I know [NBL boss] Larry Kestelman mentioned it when he was talking about the BWB, and I think it will happen.

“Play it Aussies against Americans, or whatever you want to do, but I think it will sell out really quickly. Hopefully it happens, because there is a lot of talk to make it happen.”

As exciting as a game in Australia would be, it is an issue that is one for the future. In the present, Ingles and Exum have one clear goal and that’s to get Utah back into the playoffs. Their past 12 months have been different and full of emotions, both positive and negative. As for the next 12, only time will tell what happens – but if it results in the Jazz playing in the postseason, it’ll be deemed a successful one.