This past June, the Cavaliers surprised fans and pundits when they tabbed rugged forward, Anthony Bennett, with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft. While experts wrung their hands over the choice between Nerlens Noel and Victor Oladipo, Cavs GM Chris Grant had other designs altogether.
“He was one of those guys, when you walked out of the gym after you saw him play, you kind of went, ‘Wow!’” said Grant on Draft night. “He does things that you just don’t see other people do. So he was always a guy who was highly in our mix throughout the entire season.”
An explosive, powerful athlete, Bennett spent one very productive season at UNLV where he averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 boards per contest. He ranked seventh in the Mountain West Conference in scoring, fifth in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots.
At 6-8, Bennett was viewed as somewhat of a “tweener.” But the quiet Canadian with the wide wingspan and broad shoulders is as willing to bang in the paint as he is to step outside on the perimeter. And in just a couple weeks, when Training Camp opens at Cleveland Clinic Courts, he’ll be competing against his friend and fellow countryman, Tristan Thompson.
Bennett’s been working out in Independence through much of the summer to prepare for that competition and his freshman season as the league’s top pick.
Cavs.com caught up with the 20-year-old rookie before he left for Vegas to see the Mayweather-Canelo fight to talk about the Canadian invasion, his matchups with Tristan and what his Draft night was like.
Realizing it wasn’t a summer “vacation,” how have you spent your first offseason before coming to Camp?
Anthony Bennett: Pretty much been just going back and forth from Toronto to Cleveland. While I’m out here, I’ve just been taking care of my shoulder – doing rehab, trying to get back in shape. Every time I go back home, I just visit with family, but it’s not for a long period of time. I went to the Rookie Transitioning Program for five days. And after that, I’ve just been out here at the (Cleveland Clinic) Courts.
Have you had a chance to work out with any of your new teammates?
Bennett: I’ve been doing no-contact stuff, pretty much. During Summer League, me and Dion worked out. And I had a chance to work out with Kyrie a couple days ago. It’s just been those two, basically.
Between Tristan Thompson, yourself, and possibly Andrew Wiggins next year, some really talented players are coming from Canada and specifically the Toronto area. How do you explain the Canadian invasion?
Bennett: I feel like right now there’s just a great group of guys willing to get better. As for myself, I’ve just spent every summer just going into the gym, working out once, twice a day. In the Brampton area, where I’m from, we have a whole bunch of guys who just come in and we have a lot of games and guys just get better from there.
What’s Brampton like?
Bennett: It’s quiet. I feel like everybody knows each other – and it’s not even that small. But in the community, there’s only a certain amount of basketball courts. I know most of the basketball players out there and we all try to keep in touch.
Bennett: I heard about him. That was one thing. I remember when I went to high school and he went off to St. Benedict’s in New Jersey. So I really didn’t have a chance to see him or meet him. But I played against him in my sophomore year. He was a senior.
How did you fare?
Bennett: I did my thing against him. We were both going back and forth, so it was just fun.
Do you spell “color” with a “u”?
Bennett: (laughs) It depends who I’m talking to! If it’s my mom or my friends back home, I’ll spell it with a ‘u.’ But out here, I just spell it regularly.
How’s the shoulder?
Bennett: It’s getting a lot better. It’s still a process and I’m still not trying to rush into it, but everything will be fine. I’ll be ready for Camp.
What was Draft night like for you?
Bennett: I wasn’t nervous. I was more anxious than anything. It was just a lot of things you have to do leading up to it. A lot of media, a lot of photoshoots. The day of, it was just – we had a family dinner. Everyone was out there just supporting me. And then Draft night was just a crazy experience.
People were somewhat surprised when the Cavs took you No. 1 overall – fans, experts. Were you?
Bennett: Yeah, I was surprised. This year, everybody was saying there was really no, like, clear-cut first pick. Everybody had their skills and things that they did pretty well. It was up in the air, to be honest. But once I heard my name called it was just a great feeling.
Through the whole pre-Draft process, did “tweener” get to be almost a dirty word?
Bennett: I just look at myself as a basketball player. Not a tweener. Not a 3, not a 4. I just go out there and play my game, try to win games, try to make everybody better, too. In the end, it’s the game of basketball.
What are your expectations and outlook for the 2013-14 team?
Bennett: I feel like everybody really wants to do good things. We have a really young team that’s willing to work hard and achieve great things. So hopefully, every practice, every game, we’ll go out there with the mentality of just having fun but, at the same time, doing what we have to do to win games.
Why’d you go with number 15?
Bennett: I just wanted to stick with my number that I wore at UNLV. No superstitions or anything. I just like the number.
You’ve already been compared to another UNLV great, Larry Johnson. Is that the ultimate compliment?
Bennett: Yeah, from what I’ve been hearing, he’s just a great player – had a high motor, can shoot, was athletic. He did some great things at UNLV and in the league. So, you know, me being compared to him is an honor. At the same time, I’m trying to make a name for myself, too.