While most of his NBA draftmates were auditioning on courts around the league, Anthony Bennett was making the rounds of NBA offices.
The Brampton, Ont., native is touted as a potential top-five pick in Thursday’s night’s NBA draft, but the UNLV swingman has been sidelined since having rotator cuff surgery in May.
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Bennett has to hope he impressed in his interviews, and his play in college this past season, but he said he’s confident his injury won’t dictate what NBA jersey he’ll be wearing next season.
“There were a lot of questions about the surgery of course (in interviews),” Bennett said in a phone interview from New York. “But I feel like the surgery is not really a big issue, just because David Altchek (the New York Mets’ doctor and a medical consultant for the NBA) did it. He’s one of the top guys. So I feel like it’s going to be cool.”
Bennett’s rehab will keep him out of action until training camp, meaning he’ll miss NBA summer league. Plus the six-foot-seven, 240-pound player already missed draft combine and individual workouts. He did travel to the draft’s top five teams — Cleveland, Orlando, Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix — for interviews.
Bennett had surgery a few weeks after the Runnin’ Rebels were upset in the second round of March Madness in a 64-61 loss to California.
“At the end of my season, I felt like it was the best choice, best decision for me to go ahead and get surgery for my shoulder, instead of doing it after summer league,” Bennett said. “I felt like it was the right decision because I’m going to be back before training camp, even though I’m going to miss out on summer league. But training camp, I feel like that’s one I really can’t miss.”
Bennett played this past season at UNLV, earning Mountain West freshman of the year honours. He led the team in scoring with 16.1 points a game. He also led the team, and was fifth in the conference, in rebounds averaging 8.1.
He’s one of three Canadians who are NBA-bound. Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk is a projected lottery pick while University of Texas point guard Myck Kabongo is expected to go late in the second round.
Tristan Thompson is the highest Canadian NBA draft pick, going fourth overall to Cleveland in 2011.
The forward from Brampton, Ont., said Bennett shouldn’t stress about where he lands in the draft — the health of his shoulder is more important.
“Because it’s a long season, 82 games plus training camp, it takes a toll on your body, so make sure you get your shoulder healthy first,” Thompson said in a phone interview. “And then second, it doesn’t matter what number you get picked, it’s about the best fit in the best situation for you. Look at Darko Milicic, he went No. 2 (in 2003) but he’s not in the NBA right now. And you’ve got Dwyane Wade (No. 5 pick the same year) who has won NBA championships.
“So it’s about the best fit. It’s not about the pick, it’s about what’s the best fit and how you can extend your career for as long as you can.”
Two other top-10 draft prospects for this year — Nerlens Noel and Alex Len — also had recent surgeries, Noel for a torn ACL and Len for an ankle injury.
Bennett said he’s just starting lifting weights again.
“Not too heavy, but just a good amount to build back the strength. I’ve been doing that, and some mobility work,” he said.
He was just wrapping up a whirlwind Wednesday in New York that he spent doing interviews and photo shoots. All the draft prospects also toured the 9/11 memorial.
Bennett has two team’s worth of family members with him in New York — some 25-30 (he lost count) of uncles, aunts and cousins, and his mom and sister.
He’s purchased his suit for his walk across the stage — scarlet and grey, UNLV’s colours.
“Simple, but it really stands out too,” he said of his fashion choice.
These are heady days for Canadian basketball as Bennett, Olynyk and Kabongo are poised to join the eight Canadians already in the NBA, two of whom — Miami’s Joel Anthony and San Antonio’s Cory Joseph — played in the NBA final.
“It’s a big time for those young guys, and it’s big for our country and it’s big for our national team, having three guys that are potential first-round picks, all Canadians,” Thompson said.
“I think it’s because we’re getting the opportunity and we’re getting the media attention and the exposure with these young kids coming up. And also these young kids are taking this game seriously and they’re seeing that if they work hard it is possible to become an NBA player and get drafted. It’s kind of a seeing is believing type thing. With Steve Nash being the forefather of all this and me and Cory being the grandpas, it’s exciting,” he added, laughing.
Nash was the highest Canadian draft pick before Thompson, going 15th overall to Phoenix in 1996. Bennett spoke to Nash, who’s also the general manager of Canada’s men’s team, a few months ago.
“It was back when I didn’t really know what I was doing, if I was going to stay in college or I was going to leave, but he just told me if I do leave, just work hard, because not every year is guaranteed for you,” Bennett said. “That kind of stuck with me.”
While Bennett insisted he’ll be happy wherever he lands — “top-10, or even if it’s 11 through 20” — he did say he wouldn’t mind topping Thompson in the draft pecking order.
“It’s history. Tristan, he went No. 4 a couple of years ago, so if I beat that, I’ll be happy,” Bennett said. “It’s just a great era of Canadian basketball right now, because we have people in the NBA, we have people getting drafted this year, we have people in college, we have people still in high school who are dominating. It’s just crazy throughout different levels.”
Andrew Wiggins, a budding superstar from Thornhill, Ont., is being projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.