Dante Exum: Quote Machine

July 17th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Dante Exum the Prospect was tantalizing and mysterious. Dante Exum the Jazz Draftee was exciting. Dante Exum the NBA Player has shown nice flashes.

But Dante Exum the Quote Machine is just sublime.

It seems that for about a month now, any time the Australian phenom hasn’t been touching a basketball, he’s been in front of microphones. And that’s great news for the rest of us. Exum is a breath of fresh air as a pro interview. He’s honest, speaks with absolutely zero pretense and flashes that demure smile. He seems simultaneously embarrassed by the attention and yet glad to soak it all in. And, of course, there’s the awesome Aussie accent.

Some of his best quotes have an extra quality to them, an endearing naivete that would make you say, “Aww, that’s adorable!” if he weren’t, you know, an adult making millions of dollars.

Today, SCH brings you the most quirky, funny, endearing and exciting things this young man has uttered since dawning a Jazz hat late last month.

“I was freaking out, I thought it was spirits… Yeah, like ghosts.”

This is from a great TrueHoop sit-down with both Exum and fellow Jazz rookie Rodney Hood. They asked him about experiencing his first earthquake, early one morning when an LA quake shook his hotel room while he was watching Netflix. How cool is this line? So his room began to shake, so naturally he assumed that he’s being haunted by ghosts. Awesome! He goes on to tell Kevin Arnovitz about how he jumped up on his bed and “froze” in fear. “I didn’t know what to do.”

“X like xenopus… it’s a genus of frogs.”

OK, this might be a tad unfair: since this came from a Foot Locker commercial, it was probably scripted and therefore not technically an Exum quote. But that entire series of commercials is great, and “X like xenopus” has become shorthand (well, longhand really) for expressing my excitement about Exum. For example, when Exum had that sweet, spinning, hesitation, stop-on-a-dime, crossover move that broke poor CJ Williams’ ankles, I turned to my fiancee and said, “X like xenopus.” And, what’s more, she knew exactly what that meant.

“I think just, the thing with Australians is we’re very competitive. We want to win, and we’d do anything for our teammates. That’s one thing I’m trying to bring to the Jazz… It’s not that people should fear us, I think it’s just that attitude we come in with (to) the game.”

This also comes from the Arnovitz sit-down, and was nice to hear, mostly because we’re all looking at this super-nice kid and hoping that someday we see the killer instinct that the greats have had. As Arnovitz said in his ramp-up to the question, Aussies are really nice. If you’ve ever been to Australia, you know that the people there are famously laid-back. The unofficial national motto is, “No worries, mate.” Then, on the other hand, we’ve heard1 that Exum tested off the charts in psych evals that measure, among other things, competitiveness and the desire to see your opponent die a slow, painful death. While I’m absolutely a fan of the charming, almost naive, smiling Exum we get in interviews, I’d love to see more of that competitive fire, especially after a couple somewhat passive LVSL outings.

“That’s the future. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. I take it one day at a time. I’m trying to do what I can now so I can get to that caliber… But I’m just going to work hard every day and see what happens.”

See, this is what I mean about him talking about himself in a rather humble, unassuming way. This was in response to my question on Draft night about whether he can be the franchise player some think he is. This is definitely the right answer for that setting, and one that reminds me of the Gregg Popovich line about drafting/signing guys who “have gotten over themselves.”

“Yeah, I was nervous at the start, but you know, it was just about getting out there and getting a run.”

This is from the walk-off interview on NBA TV, moments after Exum had concluded his first semi-official basketball game since last year. This makes the early Exum quote list because it hits several of the points above, but also because it reminds me of a hilarious line from those old Da Ali G promos they ran on TNT several years ago. In a spot starting at 3:00 in this video, Sacha Baron Cohen’s character tells erstwhile TV analyst Steve Kerr, “It’s about going out there, having a laugh, and getting some exercise most importantly.” That line has become a running joke with several friends and coworkers, so hearing Exum say something so close to that was hilarious. Just out getting a run.

Here are some other oft-recycled lines from those commercials that still make me giggle:

  • “Well there’s air in this room, how come this room ain’t bouncing?”
  • “Phone call over!”
  • “You don’t even speak English, so shut up… Can’t understand what you’re saying, you’re speaking in Canada.”
  • “Let’s agree to a degree.”

“It’s my twin sister’s birthday as well, so that’s even better.”

Wait, your twin sister and you share a birthday? What are the odds?! (Also from the NBA TV postgame interview.)

“I’m just a kid from Melbourne, Australia looking to come into a program and work hard.”

This is from his Draft-night one-on-one with Jazz radio’s David Locke. This goes back to that deferential, aww-shucks approach he has when talking about himself.

“So…”

This is from… oh yeah, every interview he’s ever done. Have you noticed that most of his answers end with him trailing off into an elongated “so”?

“If I want them here, they’ll be over in 20 hours.”

This line drew a laugh from the assembled media at Exum’s introductory press conference, chronicled here by the intrepid Jody Genessy. I guess it’s all about perspective, because for Exum, there was nothing odd about saying, essentially, Hey, they’re only 20 hours away. It’s nice to know that Exum’s support system is on call for when he encounters those rookie bumps, although he said in another great quote, “I don’t really get homesick.”

“Just call me Dante.”

Exum had this line for assembled LVSL media who wanted to help him find a worthy nickname. This is more evidence of his low-ego approach, but it’s also, of course, totally unacceptable. For a player of Exum’s buzz, likability and potentially franchise-shaping talents, we’re not going to simply call him by his first name. By definition, name and nickname are not the same thing.

In his Draft-night convo with Locke, he did give permission to the media to find an appropriate nickname, so let’s get on it. Here are some thoughts:

  • I don’t remember who first floated it, but “Inferno” is a cool literary reference and could be indicative of the seven levels of hell Exum may be subjecting opponents to soon.
  • As described above, X like Xenopus has quirky nickname potential; it’s the type of thing I could picture myself screaming on Spanish radio2 after a big play. A bit of an inside-joke type of nickname, but fun, right?
  • I floated the idea of Triple Exum™ after a three-point basket.
  • The Australian Blur (or Blur from Down Under, like the Jazz used on some of his post-draft videos) has a nice throwback quality.
  • Some fans are getting behind FedEx “Express Delivery” as a nod to his lightning speed and the new-school iteration of the rich Mailman lore of Jazz history. That one feels like it needs a little too much explaining to stick3, but I like the sentiment.

“During the winter it gets cold, and I don’t like to be in that mud.”

Exum explained to The Starters after his first Summer League game why he chose to play basketball and not Aussie football. Lucky for the Utah Jazz, Melbourne has winter highs in the 40s and 50s, so he picked up basketball. Here are a couple of other good quotes from his spot on The Starters:

“I’ve never been in the snow, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Just wait, Dante. Just. Wait.

“Do I get to take this cake?”

Yes, Exum. You take that cake.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton

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One Comment

  1. Steve says:

    Exum may or may not live up to the hype, but he has to be on of the most likeable players in a while!

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