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NBA draft: Dante Exum is a player to watch

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/18/20/21/joLED.Em.138.jpeg|213
    Charles Rex Arbogast - AP
    Dante Exum, the youngest son of former UNC player Cecil Exum, grew up in Australia. He seriously considered playing college ball for the Tar Heels before applying for the June 26 draft.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/18/20/21/3ROfY.Em.138.jpeg|181
    Charles Rex Arbogast - AP
    Dante Exum is a gifted 6-foot-6 point guard from Australia who is somewhat of a mystery man at the NBA Draft Combine.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/18/20/21/1hZ0QZ.Em.138.jpeg|251
    Charles Rex Arbogast - AP
    Dante Exum, from Australia, participates in the three-quarters-court sprint in the 2014 NBA basketball draft combine Friday in Chicago.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/18/20/21/GHwvL.Em.138.jpeg|500
    Charles Rex Arbogast - AP
    Dante Exum, from Australia, participates in the vertical jump in the 2014 NBA basketball draft combine Friday in Chicago.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/18/20/21/1nOk9q.Em.138.jpeg|452
    Roberto Serra/Iguana Press - Getty Images
    Dante Exum practices during the 2013 adidas Eurocamp at La Ghirada sports center in Treviso, Italy.

CHICAGO Unless you’re quite the NBA draftnik, you might not have heard the name “Dante Exum.” That is about to change.

Exum, the youngest son of former North Carolina player Cecil Exum, grew up in Australia. He seriously considered playing college ball for the Tar Heels before applying for the June 26 draft. Exum is along and gifted point guard at 6-foot-6, and there’s a good chance he’ll be a top-10, possibly top-five selection.

He could be everything former Charlotte Bobcat Shaun Livingston might have been had Livingston not suffered that heinous knee injury as a Los Angeles Clipper. People of Exum’s and Livingston’s dimensions seldom have their playmaking skill.

“I’m a point guard. In all the teams I’ve played on, I’ve been the leader,” Exum said Friday during a media session at the NBA Draft Combine. “I think off the dribble I can make the defense split – that’s where I’ve excelled.”

After playing on North Carolina’s 1982 national championship team (alongside Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, among others), Cecil Exum played professionally in Australia. He and his wife so enjoyed the country, they settled there and had three children.

Cecil Exum ended up coaching in Australia, so Dante was around the game from a very young age. He showed enough promise on his early teams to be recruited by the Australian Institute of Sport, a sort of national academy program. That meant he already has traveled the world, playing at various international tournaments.

Yet to the U.S. college players who filled most of the spots at the combine, he was a mystery man.

“No one knows me,” Exum said. “Everyone is wondering about this kid from Australia. That is kind of fun.

“I think I’m ready for this situation. I’ve been away from home since I was 15 in a situation that is kind of like college. That place taught me how to be a professional, how to handle myself in a situation like this.”

Exum is 18. He’s eligible for this draft because he’s an international player, as opposed to a U.S. player who must be at least one year removed from his high school class’ graduation.

He does not carry himself anything like a teenager – mature, contemplative and relaxed in front of dozens of television cameras and tape recorders Friday.

“In Australia, I didn’t get any of this. I think I’ve handled it well,” Exum said. “In the (job) interviews I’ve just tried to come across as a mature young man – someone who is prepared for this next step.”

Notes: Stan Van Gundy, who was just named coach and president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, is still figuring how to juggle the two responsibilities. So he reached out to the San Antonio Spurs, where Greg Popovich has comparable authority, looking for advice.

“I spent a couple of minutes with R.C. (Buford, the Spurs’ general manager) today,” Van Gundy said at the combine. “I’d love, if those guys would do it, to sit down with them after the season. We’re in a good situation right now because nobody’s going to view us as a threat.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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