Rookies Roll Into Independence

After the smoke cleared from a surprising and productive Draft night at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Thursday, the Cavaliers welcomed two of their three picks to the North Coast on Friday afternoon.

Flanked by GM Chris Grant and new head coach Mike Brown, No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and the player chosen at No. 33, Carrick Felix, were greeted by media members, Cavalier staffers and members of the Wine and Gold United. Sergey Karasev, the 19-year-old swingman Cleveland tabbed at No. 19 overall had already caught a red-eye back home – ready to tip off a game in Russia.

Grant describe the process of how he and the Cavs brain trust arrived at the selection of Bennett.

“With our scouting department, our evaluators during the season, the first time we saw Anthony, I think all of us walked out of the gym just amazed with his ability and talent,” recalled Grant. “And the more we got to know him and learn what kind of person he was and that he was an incredibly hard worker and he was going to do whatever it takes to be the best he could be, it became a very easy decision for us.”

Bennett flashed a million-dollar smile as he answered questions about his health, his Draft night experience and the recent upward trajectory of Canadian hoops.

“I feel like I’m versatile, I can go inside and out, I can rebound, I’m unselfish, I don’t have an agenda,” said Bennett, describing his game. “And I just want to help the team get wins. I feel like one part of my game I need to get better at is my defense. But I’m here and I’ve been put in the position to work hard every day, use the facilities and get better.”

Bennett’s defense will almost certainly improve under new coach Mike Brown, who broke out the line(s) of the day when asked about his new rookies bringing it on the defensive end.

“I’m not trying to throw these guys under the bus – I’d say it to their face – but we had Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall here and we were one of the top defensive teams in the league,” quipped Brown. “These guys will figure out how to get on the floor. If they can’t figure out they’ll have to play defense, they’ll be doing what they’re doing now (sitting).”

The Cavaliers’ second-rounder, Carrick Felix – a big guard from Arizona State who stood nearly as tall as Bennett – is already a defensive-minded player, something he revealed when describing his own game.

“I’d say I’m a Jimmy Butler type – a guy who’s defensive-minded,” said Felix. “Defense is where I thrive, and I’m going to compete. I’m a high-energy guy and I’m going to go out there and run the floor and go out there and make plays.”

The basketball world watched Anthony Bennett stride to the stage as 2013’s top pick. Felix’ celebration when he was selected was much more subdued.

“I was at home with my family – my grandparents, my cousins and actually my daughter came into town,” said Felix, a three-year player who earned a Master’s degree at ASU. “And we were all just sitting in front of the TV. I was holding my daughter and my name got called and I was just overly excited. I just walked outside.

“It’s a blessing to be here, it’s a great opportunity and I’m just thanking God for this chance.”

All three Cavaliers draftees have the versatility to play (and guard) multiple positions. Bennett is a 4 who can play the 3. Karasev is a 2 who can play the 3. Felix is a 6-6 ½ guard – a nice height for a head coach who loves big guards.

Grant was asked if that versatility was something part of the Cavs’ draft strategy or simply that just worked out.

“We like guys that can play multiple positions,” replied Grant. “It just helps if you put different combinations on the floor. It makes you difficult to guard. A guy like Anthony, you put him in the pick-and-roll with Kyrie and Dion, that’s going to be tough to deal with for the other team. We like guys who can do those things.

“Ultimately, though, those guys do have a primary position, and the fact that they can play another position is a benefit.”

Bennett is from Brampton, a suburb of Toronto, Ontario. He and fellow Brampton native, Tristan Thompson, will be competing for minutes at the power forward spot. But Coach Brown so no problem with that redundancy.

“They have to go out and they have to compete,” reasoned Brown. “They’re both competitors. They might be buddies, but at the end of the day, when you cross that line I think they’re going to get after each other – not only to make themselves better as individuals but to make the team better.

“It’s great to be able to have depth in all areas, and Anthony is a guy that has definitely added that to us. I like the fact that he’s versatile; he’s different than the bigs we have, so he can be used in a lot of different ways.”

With both Cavalier power forwards coming from north of the border, Bennett was asked if the Cavaliers should start playing “O Canada” before the National Anthem at home games.

“If it happens, man, I’ll be happy!” laughed the 6-7, 230-pounder.

After their introduction in Independence, the rookies – along with GM Chris Grant, Head Coach Mike Brown and other special guests – boarded a bus for their inaugural appearance into the community, participating in a family room dedication at the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland.