If UNLV forward Anthony Bennett is among the top three picks in Thursday’s NBA draft, he will own a unique place in history – if only for one year. Two years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers made Tristan Thompson the highest draft pick from Canada by choosing him fourth overall. Bennett, a native of Toronto, is hoping to emerge from the night with that title.
“It would be cool to beat that. It would mean a lot to me,” Bennett said when asked of the possibility on Wednesday at pre-draft availability for the top 13 prospects. “This shows that basketball is on the come-up in Canada. We have a lot of young talent, players in college right now, so the next couple of years should be good for us.”
Fellow Canadian Kelly Olynyk from Gonzaga is a possibility to go in the lottery this year, but NBA teams are already waiting in anticipation for next year, when Andrew Wiggins is expected to be the No. 1 overall. Bennett is a long shot to go first this year to Cleveland, and the Wizards have a strong interest in possibly taking him third (although many league executives — and Post columnist Mike Wise — believe they will inevitably take Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr).
“I feel anywhere I go, I’m going to help my team,” Bennett said. “I’m versatile. I can shoot, post-up, I run the floor, rebound, get my teammates open. I’m unselfish. I feel like I’m a nice character and I don’t have my own agenda.”
The 6-foot-7 Bennett has been sidelined for the past six weeks after having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He recently removed the protective sling and began lifting weights but won’t be able to start participating in basketball-related activities until the first week of August.
Unable to do workouts, Bennett still visited the top five teams in the draft – Cleveland, Orlando, Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix – and admitted that he has gained some weight because of the travel and inactivity. But he disputed a recent report that he has gained 18 pounds.
“I wouldn’t say 18. I’d say 15, 14,” Bennett said. “I was doing well. I didn’t really weigh myself like that. With the sling, I couldn’t do nothing real hard. They told me I couldn’t sweat, so I couldn’t do nothing for the whole month and then, when I came back, I was doing rehab. Then when I started traveling, it started adding up. That’s when I’d go downstairs and order room service or a small pizza.”
One NBA executive from team interested in Bennett said his possible weight gain isn’t a major concern, given his age. Bennett, 20, didn’t look particularly pudgy as he met with reporters and later visited the 9/11 Memorial on Wednesday, but he is anxious to get back to playing again – and erasing other doubts about his talents and position.
“I’m 6-7. Everybody said I’m a tweener, but I don’t really look into that. I dominated college my only year. I scored inside out, rebounded well, and helped my teammates,” Bennett said. “Throughout high school and even my only season in college a lot of people have been doubting me, saying I can’t do this, do that and I’m too small, but at the same time I just focus on me and the team. I work hard every day and this is what has gotten me here.”
Bennett said he has patterned his game after Carmelo Anthony, another player with the ability to play both forward positions and score. But because he attended UNLV, Bennett has also been compared to another former Running Rebel who once played for the New York Knicks – Larry Johnson.
“The Larry Johnson comparison is on the spot. I watched the game where they played against Duke in the finals and they blew them out by 30. He was doing everything on the court, hustling, shooting the ball, dunking, setting screens for people, which is a mirror of what he did and what I do,” Bennett said. “Right now I’m thinking [I’ll be] stretch four but later on in my career maybe I will play the three. I feel that playing the stretch four is an advantage for me because I’m quicker than most power forwards. I can shoot the ball well. I’m efficient so I can use that to my advantage.”
Bennett said his versatility and ability to adjust to multiple systems after attending three high schools and UNLV in the past four years, makes him capable to adapt in any system. When asked specifically about the Wizards, Bennett said, “I feel like a great fit with any team, but Wizards for sure.”
But he wouldn’t mind if another team chose him. “If I get picked number one, I’ll be happy,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be happy regardless.”
MORE NBA DRAFT COVERAGE FROM THE POST
– Mike Wise: Wizards have one clear choice.