UNLV freshman power forward Anthony Bennett frowned as he glanced down at his left arm while attending the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday. Nearly a week removed having surgery to repair a torn left rotator cuff, Bennett is wearing a sling that is connected to a pad near his midsection to protect his arm and limit its mobility.
The timing of the procedure is bad, because it forced him to miss out on attending the NBA draft combine and will keep him from participating in individual workouts for teams. Limited to doing interviews in advance of the June 27 NBA draft, the 6-foot-8 Bennett will have to hope that a season in which he averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds – and shot 38 percent from beyond the three-point line – was enough to convince teams that he is worthy of a high draft pick.
“It’s been tough for me. Kind of depressing, too, that I’m hurt,” Bennett said. “Could’ve had this fixed earlier in the season, but I didn’t know what it was. I’m just happy I got it out the way. It’s a long process, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to come back 100 percent.”
A bruising inside force, Bennett was considered a possible No. 1 overall selection early last season, as he scored 22 points in his collegiate debut against Northern Arizona and scored at least 10 points in his first 17 games. Drawing comparisons to former all-star Elton Brand and touted by some as the Running Rebels’ best recruit since Larry Johnson, Bennett displayed tremendous offensive versatility, explosive athleticism and an imposing 7-1 wingspan, which made him effective despite being relatively undersized.
Bennett experienced a dip in his production in Mountain West Conference play and began to experience some discomfort in February in his left shoulder, which he originally thought was a nerve issue that came from sleeping on it wrong. Bennett bounced back in the conference tournament, scoring 42 points on 16-of-22 shooting in the first two games. He had 15 points and 11 rebounds in UNLV’s 64-61 loss to California in the NCAA tournament round of 64.
The Wizards have four developing but inconsistent young forwards in Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely, but Bennett could give the team a reliable scoring option for an often offensively challenged squad. Viewed by some as a tweener, Bennett doesn’t get caught up in labeling himself.
“I just feel like I’m a basketball player. I don’t really have a position. I can play inside. I can play out,” Bennett said.”So whatever a team needs, I think I got it.”
In a draft filled with unproven, inexperienced and mostly unknown prospects, the full impact of Bennett’s injury probably won’t be determined until he finally shakes hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern. Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Maryland center Alex Len are both dealing with injuries but are still expected to be selected in the top 10. Noel might even go first overall. Bennett doesn’t expect to slide much, if at all.
“I can go anywhere in the top 5. I feel I can play in any of those systems,” Bennett said. “I don’t even have to change my game.”
Bennett is preparing for the draft in New York and he has spent his time doing background work on teams that might select him. “I have to start doing a lot of research on a lot of these teams now. It’s just a little something I’m not used to,” said Bennett, a native of Brampton, Ontario. “Being from Canada, we never had, like, the basketball games live on TV. We were just starting to get it.”
The shoulder injury is expected to keep Bennett sidelined through August, but he remains optimistic that he could come back sooner if he rehabs properly. Either way, Bennett is trying to remain positive as he ventures into a process that is mostly out of his control.
“I’m just happy it’s not my shooting hand and that it’s not going to throw everything off,” Bennett said of the injury. “I can still do a little form shooting, but once I get back in the gym, I’m going to be really happy that I’m fully recovered.”