Dante Exum embraces European fan culture, can't wait to play the Serbian derby

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2022-11-28 08:10

Dante Exum shared with BasketNews his thoughts on European fans' intense reactions during games, his new role with Partizan, and why Zeljko Obradovic has every reason to yell at his players.

Credit: Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Fan culture was one of the first things Dante Exum had to grow accustomed to since he landed in Europe.

If seven months with FC Barcelona in 2021-22 weren't enough for him to get a good taste of what fans are all about, his signing with Partizan Mozzart Bet Belgrade has left no room for doubt and questions. 

Thus, when the Serbian team visited Athens to face Panathinaikos, and local fans started to throw objects on the court, no surprise was recorded. What would have been a spectacle for NBA players like Kevin Durant, who saw first-hand how flares can be lit in game-time and how easy it is for fans to invade the court, for Exum, it was just another day in the job.

Dante Exum

Dante  Exum
Dante  Exum
MIN: 22.83
PTS: 11.44 (64.95%)
REB: 2.44
As: 2.33
ST: 0.89
BL: 0
TO: 2.11
GM: 9

Ironically, the play that ignited the passion and infuriated PAO fans was Dwayne Bacon not getting a foul on a dunk attempt against Dante Exum with almost four minutes left to play. Eventually, Partizan came out with their first and only (so far) away win of the season. 

Credit Vassilis Stolis

After the game, the Australian guard-forward looked rather amused by what had transpired in the OAKA arena. 

"It's definitely something that happens every other game," he cynically remarked.

"Coming to the Partizan fans, in our first ABA League game, they threw things onto the floor," he recalled.

For Exum, playing in Europe is, first and foremost, a chance for him to witness "how different cultures celebrate the game of basketball."

Credit Partizan Mozzart Bet

However, the situation can easily get out of control. The game in Athens was interrupted for ten minutes, but it's not unusual for basketball contests in Europe - especially in the Balkan countries - to be heavily influenced by fans behavior.

That's also why he doesn't need anyone to prepare him for the atmosphere he's going to face whenever his team is playing an important match.

"We knew going into any away EuroLeague game that fans would come out," he said. 

Exum thinks that such intervention can sometimes be fun.

"However, when it stops the game, it kind of becomes a nuisance," he pointed out.

"I'm sitting there laughing, but last time, all the guys had to go to the locker room for an hour. Hopefully, it never gets too bad."

Exum, 27, stressed that his family and friends back in Australia are not too worried that something bad will come his way. 

"They're not texting me, nor are they calling me to ask if I'm safe. I haven't felt threat or anything while being here," he clarified. "Maybe that will happen with Red Star."

As one of the season's most highly-anticipated and heated games is on its way, Exum is getting prepared for an atmosphere that might surpass everything he's seen in his 1-year term in the Old Continent.

Last year's ABA League finals featuring Partizan and Crvena Zvezda didn't go down well. Games 2 and 5 were marked by serious incidents on and off the court, while Partizan decided to forfeit the Serbian league playoffs as a form of protest. 

"I've heard a lot of stories about that, but we'll see," Exum continued.

"It's going to be a battle, a war. It's going to be an unbelievable atmosphere at their home court. We know that. We have to play together as a team as we did in Athens," he pointed out. 

If Exum were to explain in just one sentence why he decided to stay in Europe and sign with Partizan, the answer would sound like this: "I just want to play basketball and the EuroLeague's fun."

Many were definitely surprised to learn he'd signed with the EuroLeague newcomers. But for him, it was about finding a place where he could play and have the freedom to go and score, assist and play defense.

"I've been out of luck with my many injuries. So, that was what I wanted to do. I'm all about the experience. What more exciting than Partizan coming back to the EuroLeague?" he wondered. 

That's one of the main reasons why the 5th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft didn't persistently pursue his return to the world's top league. 

"I think the NBA is always going to be an option, but I feel like I'm at a point in my career and in my life where I can contribute to a team. 

That's what I'm going to do on the floor. If I get that opportunity, I will get back. If I don't, I'll be happy to continue to play here."

Apart from an expanded role and more playing time, one of the most enticing perks Europe can offer is what Exum calls "the cultural experience." Whether he's with FC Barcelona or Partizan, the opportunity to travel around the continent and numerous cities is one he wouldn't change for the world. 

"I said it the first time when I came here: my first trip was Tenerife-Belgrade-Greece. You can't get that anywhere else, in any other league.

For instance, tomorrow we don't leave until late. So, I'm going to go and see a bit of Athens. I didn't get to do that last time because we left early. It's exciting for me to see those things. In the NBA, you fly out after the games."

Former Partizan and Zalgiris Kaunas center Jock Landale, one of Exum's closest friends, can take credit for providing his fellow countryman with all the necessary info before he moved to Belgrade.

However, they keep exchanging news and sharing their feedback from the EuroLeague and the NBA.

"I've talked to him," Exum said.

"He's killing it over in Phoenix, he loves it there. I'm glad he found a home. It's really important for him to grow. Hopefully, he comes and brings that back to the Australian national team."

As much as Exum's enjoying basketball in Europe, the Australian time zone doesn't facilitate the live viewing of EuroLeague games in another hemisphere. 

"It's tough for Australia because it's on in the morning, like 5:30 am," the Aussie international commented.

"It's tough for them to watch and be fans of it, but I definitely know some people who have grown more and more interested. With technology these days, it's easy to follow everything.

But it's hard to get up in the morning and watch games while you have a regular job. My family is struggling to wake up and then having to go about their day."

Partizan currently stand as the only unbeaten team in the ABA League (7-0), while Exum is averaging 10.7 points on sensational shooting splits (71.4% 2-point, 57.1% 3-point shooting, 100% in free throws).

He also contributes 2.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists, usually serving as the team's second point guard next to Yam Madar.

"I'm still adjusting, playing the point guard this year," he confirmed.

"I think it's going well. We're still growing as a team, and we have a long way to go. I feel like we should have stuck out and won some games we lost. But we're growing, and hopefully, we can continue to keep it up."

In his pre-game statements ahead of the first big Serbian derby of the season, Zvezda coach Dusko Ivanovic called Partizan "an attacking team with the greatest potential, and the best team offensively in Europe at the moment." 

Zeljko Obradovic's squad rank 5th in the EuroLeague in points per game (84.2). Their ability to produce points is mainly attributed to players like Kevin Punter, Zach LeDay, and James Nunnally.

Nevertheless, Danilo Andjusic, Mathias Lessort, and Exum himself make up a six-member list of players averaging double-digits in points per EuroLeague contest. 

However, Exum maintains that everything starts from the defensive end.

"We have amazing players on our team that have the ability to score the ball. We have a lot of sets, and everyone's locked in. Defense is going to win us games," he illustrated.

Upon his arrival, the versatile player declared himself up to the task, saying, "Coach Obradovic is also there, I can't wait to see what ideas he has."

Well, he should know by now.

"He just wants you to play and think during the game. That's the biggest thing: do something and do it with meaning," Exum stressed.

"We do so much scouting, so much preparing for the games that if you're doing something that he's said 1000 times, it's kind of like 'why?' So, I think everyone's getting to the point where we know how to stay focused and concentrated for 40 minutes."

Last summer, Exum transitioned from the student to the teacher, leaving Sarunas Jasikevicius and Barcelona for Obradovic and Belgrade. As anyone would admit, Saras provides a good warmup for a player who's going to execute the Serbian coach's plan.

"Yeah, definitely. They're two coaches that love to yell," Exum laughs.

"But it is what it is. I've been enjoying it so far. They do a lot of yelling, but there's a meaning behind what they're saying that really matters."

Is that the only thing they have in common? "You can go through a list, but I don't have so much time," Exum replied before heading for the bus. 

Besides, he had a day full of sightseeing ahead of him and many more places to visit until he got to his first Belgrade derby.


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