Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Savon Goodman is preparing for his sophomore season at UNLV. Anthony Bennett, a member of the same Rebels freshman class, is preparing to become a multimillionaire. In the coming years, both could play a large role in UNLV winning games.
Goodman’s path is more obvious. With Bennett and Mike Moser gone, there’s playing time available at forward, where the Rebels hope Goodman delivers on a promising first season and blossoms into a solid player for three more years.
Bennett won’t play another minute for UNLV, yet his impact could be even greater. On Thursday in New York, Bennett will hear his name called at the 2013 NBA Draft. He shouldn’t have to wait long, either. The first-team All-Mountain West power forward isn’t expected to last past the fifth pick, which would make him the highest UNLV draft pick since J.R. Rider went No. 5 in 1993.
“It’s a huge deal for our program,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “The next 12 to 15 years when Anthony Bennett’s introduced in the NBA, it’s always Anthony Bennett, UNLV.”
The power that will create on the recruiting trail is hard to gauge precisely, but it certainly matters. Not only will Rebels coaches be able to point to Bennett as a likely top-five pick, but they can also show the projections that had the Findlay Prep product as a fringe first-round prospect before his freshman season.
And while this isn’t a familiar position for UNLV — no Rebel has been drafted since Marcus Banks went No. 13 in 2003 — it’s becoming tradition for Findlay Prep. Coach Todd Simon still points to June 23, 2011, the night three Pilots were drafted, as one of the best days of his tenure.
“That’s what we’re preparing for,” Simon said. “We want these guys to have careers in basketball. (Bennett)’s going to be able to change generations of his family through a career in basketball, and if you can say that about any profession, you’ve done pretty well.”
A year after Avery Bradley went in the first round to the Boston Celtics on 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Tristan Thompson at No. 4, setting the draft position precedent Bennett may match or eclipse this week. Cory Joseph then went at No. 29 to the San Antonio Spurs, and DeAndre Liggins went in the second round at No. 53 to the Orlando Magic.
Thompson and Joseph, who both played at Texas, are Canadians who helped open that pipeline to Findlay Prep, making Bennett’s move to the desert possible. Now he’s going to follow them into the NBA, and he could be joined by another Canada-Findlay-Texas player: second-round prospect Myck Kabongo. Just how successful Bennett will be once he gets there is, of course, a mystery.
Nearly every UNLV game this season had multiple NBA scouts in attendance. Lately, Bennett has been bouncing around the country to meet with teams, although he can’t work out because of shoulder surgery in May.
“My phone’s been ringing for six months,” Simon said. “There’s not a better scorer in the draft, and there’s probably not a guy who has a higher upside.”
That’s the feeling from pretty much every GM and pundit, though Bennett certainly comes with risks. ESPN’s Chad Ford tweeted Monday that Bennett recently weighed in for one team at 261 pounds, which is 21 pounds over his listed weight at UNLV. The shoulder injury likely plays a large role in that, although some already questioned his work ethic and conditioning.
Bennett will be in the green room with his family at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. What he does after that will be up to him and the team that drafts him, but up to this point the process is playing out great for the player and his former coaches.
“We are very excited for Anthony and his mom, Edith,” said Rice, who will watch the draft in Las Vegas. “It’s just a great opportunity for him to realize his dream and be able to take care of his family.”
Simon said he’s watched nearly every draft since he was a kid. For this one, like all of them in recent years, he and the Pilots staff will likely post up at a local sports bar.
“It’s that same tradition, but now knowing we played a small role in getting guys across that stage to shake hands,” Simon said.
Also watching from Las Vegas will be most of Bennett's former Rebels teammates, including Goodman. Bennett’s departure not only creates playing-time opportunities for the sophomore but also gives him and other UNLV players an example of someone living out the same dream they have.
“He’s going to go out there and do his thing,” Goodman said. “It will be pretty cool seeing this guy who was just here with all those other great players.”
Rice is hoping more of his guys will soon be able to say the same thing.
“It’s an exciting night for our program,” Rice said, “something we want to have happen a lot more often than it has in the last few years.”