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Double Dribble: Dante Exum a superstar in the making if expectation doesn't weigh him down

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Dante Exum is officially the next big thing in Australian basketball and perhaps even the NBA but hoops fans Down Under need to be careful about putting messianic pressure on the 18-year-old AIS scholarship holder.

Now he has declared he will bypass the American college system and enter the NBA draft this year, all eyes are on Exum with predictions he will be selected as high as third but at the least, somewhere in the top 10.

While that will ensure he gets a multimillion-dollar pay day, that is where the guarantees end.

Exum is talented, athletic and from all reports coming out of the Australian basketball fraternity, he has a level head on his shoulders.

He will need these attributes and more to cope with the burden of expectation he will have to carry on those same shoulders.

Exum has a confidence which comes from being a big fish in a small pond - dunking on high school opponents, representing your country at senior men's level soon after your 18th birthday and attracting the interest of America's renowned scouts and agents.


That swagger will be tested in the NBA where his lean frame will barely leave a mark on the wide bodies of fully grown men who are paid well to give rookie stars a thorough examination. They love cutting down the young stars so much a lot of them would do it free.

Exum will probably be the most under-developed physically of the elite members of the 2014 draft class and definitely experience wise as he will literally going from boys to men when it comes to his opponents. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he will be chosen primarily for his potential because he's not been tested on the college hardwood.

His first season is likely to be similar to Milwaukee's current international rookie, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has shown the athleticism which earned him the moniker "The Greek Freak" but his modest returns of 7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game underline the fact his peak is still years, not months, away.

In a video released on The Bleacher Report website this week, respected analyst and former college coach Fran Fraschilla seemed keen to keep a lid on the hype engulfing Exum before giving an appraisal of his talents which will only increase the hoopla.

"He has got instincts for the game that belie his age. While I don't want to compare him to Michael Jordan - that's totally unfair, we are talking about maybe the greatest player to ever play the game - at the same age he has got the body type and some of the instincts that Michael possessed."

As well as the anticipation from his homeland, Exum is set to walk into a franchise desperate for success.

At the same age he has got the body type and some of the instincts that Michael [Jordan] possessed.

Many teams are struggling this season in the NBA and those sides which end up with the top 10 picks in the draft are likely to be chasing a quick fix. Exum could get lucky and land at a franchise with a long-term rebuilding strategy like Boston or, probably his best-case scenario, at Philadelphia playing under former Australian Boomers coach Brett Brown. If he were to lob at Philly, he would also have a young back-court partner in Michael Carter-Williams and a front-court behemoth possessing similar upside to his own in Nerlens Noel.

But many of the teams which will end up with lottery picks or a little further down on the big board will be teams like Sacramento, the Lakers or Orlando who want to get back in the playoff picture immediately.

At least Exum won't be alone - there will be several projected franchise-changing superstar rookies in the draft, including Kansas duo Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kentucky forward Julius Randle.

The next big thing tag can do serious damage to a young player - just ask Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett.

Taken at No.1 in a major surprise in last year's draft, the Canadian-born forward is on track for one of the worst, if not the worst, debut seasons by the top pick. Kwame Brown, LaRue Martin and the unfortunate Greg Oden are watching his lack of development with particular interest.

In his first 33 matches in the big time, an unfit-looking Bennett has averaged a woeful 2.8 points per game, has only been used an average of 10.8 minutes while chalking up 2.4 rebounds and a field goal percentage of 27.9 per cent.

Making it in the NBA is tough gig and a lot of fans will need to be patient and keep that in perspective over the next few years as, hopefully, Exum grows to become the superstar player many people already expect him to be.

Taking it to the poll ... 

Last week's NBA question asked who should win the two-horse race for MVP honours and Kevin Durant was a clear 69-31 per cent winner over LeBron James from the 591 votes.

In the NBL, the question was should a marquee player rule be introduced outside the salary cap and it was 75-25 per cent in favour of the move from the 502 votes.

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