INDEPENDENCE — They didn’t trade the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. They didn’t take Maryland center Alex Len, Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel or even Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.
The always surprising Cavaliers pulled another draft night shocker Thursday and took UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett with the first pick. Cleveland took 19-year-old Russian shooting guard Sergey Karasev with the 19th choice.
“I’m just as surprised as everybody else,” Bennett said. “I didn’t really have any idea who was going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. I’m just real happy, glad that I have this opportunity. I’ve just got to thank God for everything.”
It was the third straight year Cavs general manager Chris Grant made a very unconventional pick early in the draft, as he took Texas power forward Tristan Thompson at No. 4 in 2011 and Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters at No. 4 last year.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Bennett is from Toronto — also the hometown of Cleveland’s Thompson — and became the first Canadian to be drafted No. 1 overall. Another, Kansas signee Andrew Wiggins, is expected to go first next year.
“It’s just crazy,” Bennett said. “(I) made history. I can’t really complain about that. It’s just like a long-time dream that I had since I first started playing basketball, even though it was six or seven years ago.”
Bennett not only shares a hometown with Thompson, they also play the same position. They could play together at times, but there will likely be some fierce practice battles for playing time.
“I don’t really talk to Tristan,” Bennett said. “If I see him in person, we’ll take 20 minutes out of our day just to chat it up, but other than that, he’s just a great guy. He seems real cool. … I’m going to be seeing him a lot.”
The 20-year-old Bennett is often compared to fellow UNLV product Larry Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in 1991, and Duke’s Elton Brand, the top choice in 1999.
Like those successful pros, the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year is considered a bit of a tweener — undersized as a power forward and not quick and athletic enough to play small forward for an extended period of time.
Bennett, however, has very long arms and good strength, which will help him inside, plus shooting range that extends to the NBA 3-point line.
“I can contribute at the four, at the three,” he said. “There are things I still need to work on, but I feel like I’m a great teammate, unselfish. I think I can just fit in right away.”
Bennett, whose weight has reportedly ballooned to 261 pounds since the end of last season, averaged 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.2 blocks as a UNLV freshman. He shot .533 from the field overall, .375 on 3-pointers (36-for-98) and .701 at the line.
Bennett was unable to attend the draft combine in May or work out for NBA teams because he is recovering from surgery on his left shoulder, but he visited with Cavs coach Mike Brown and front office members in Cleveland last week.
“They seemed like a real great group of guys,” he said. “I just feel like, me personally, I can open up to anybody. I can play with anybody. There’s no agendas for me. I just want to be successful and win championships.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
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