NEW YORK – On his way to earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four in April, Shabazz Napier had at least one curious observer wanting to pick his brain about the experience.
It wasn’t until weeks after watching Napier win a national championship at AT&T Stadium that Australian sensation Dante Exum could finally ask Napier about what it was like to play in college, something Exum will never do.
Exum bypassed college, signed with power agent Rob Pelinka while the college season was still going on and as luck would have it, Napier signed with Pelinka as well.
“I went to the Final Four and Shabazz Napier signed with my agency, so I got to talk to him about how it was to play in the Final Four and see it,” Exum said at NBA Draft media day on Wednesday. “He said it was one of the best experiences. It’s unfortunate to not have that experience but I’m looking at the bigger picture and i’m going to be in the NBA.”
Exum — who reportedly declined a meeting Thursday with the Cleveland Cavaliers, owners of the No.1 pick — is indeed going to the NBA and virtually assured of having his name called early, likely inside the first 3-4 picks. Exum is still something of an enigma to many because he grew up in Australia, will not play a minute of college basketball and has not seen a ton of high-level competition as a result.
The last high-profile event Exum played in was last summer’s FIBA Under-19 World Championships, where he averaged 18.2 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds over nine games. Two months prior, he played for the world select team at the Nike Hoop Summit, scoring 16 points in a showing of dynamic athleticism.
Those two events aside, Napier got a first-hand look at Exum during the pre-draft process, both on and off the court. The two lived in the same Orange County, Calif apartment complex and would work out together, which has led Napier to believe his Landmark Sports Agency-mate is capable of making an immediate impact in the NBA.
“He’s a good player, he’s gonna surprise a lot of folks,” Napier said. “No one really seems to know much about him, they call him the ‘mystery man’ I guess. He understands the game and his father played with Michael Jordan (at North Carolina), so he’s definitely a smart player. He can do a lot of things.”
“I never thought I would meet an Australian and be super-cool with him. That’s how life works. He’s definitely somebody I’ve enjoyed meeting and gotten to know.”
DraftExpress currently has Exum slotted as the No. 4 pick to the Orlando Magic, while Napier is No. 21 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Napier’s ascension up draft boards in the wake of the national title has been drastic. He was only pegged as No. 51 after leading Connecticut to the East Regional title over Michigan St. at Madison Square Garden.
ESPN’S Chad Ford reported on Wednesday morning that the Miami Heat are trying to move up in the first round in an effort to draft Napier. The Heat choose at No. 26 and could potentially package that pick, Norris Cole and a 2017 first-round pick to get it done.
“To even be mentioned in the green room, being drafted anywhere, it’s something beautiful,” Napier said. “I just play basketball. I’m not into the media stuff. I actually just got Twitter, so media’s not for me. I just want to play basketball and whatever happens on Thursday, it happens.”
The Bulls, who own the 16th and 19th overall picks, are said to have interest in Napier as a backup to Derrick Rose.