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July 3, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Anthony Bennett’s one season at UNLV a success for this important reason


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett celebrates his 3-pointer against Boise State at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

Anthony Bennett

UNLV Runnin' Rebel Anthony Bennett Launch slideshow »

Anthony Bennett - Beast Mode

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett dunks during their game against UNI Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won 73-59 to push their record to 10-1. Launch slideshow »

Thursday, the UNLV basketball program takes a giant step forward. It instantly becomes more creditable.

Thank you, Anthony Bennett.

The versatile 6-foot-7 power forward is expected to be selected early in the NBA Draft, becoming the highest Rebel taken since Shawn Marion went ninth overall in 1999 and showing other blue-chip recruits that UNLV is a program for showcasing talent while catching the eye of professional scouts.

Coach Dave Rice in his two seasons at UNLV has recruited higher caliber players in attempting to make over the roster, signing three players who were McDonald’s All-Americans. Bennett’s success in going from high school to the NBA in one short year with the scarlet and gray will be great ammunition for the coach to attract other elite recruits.

That’s all that matters for UNLV.

Forget about how the Rebels underachieved last season during Bennett’s one-and-done year or how Bennett struggled at times during the latter part of the season. And, please, don’t tell me how he could have done more — remember, UNLV had no true point guard to coordinate the offense in never finding its identity.

That had very little do with Bennett, who frequently was the Rebels’ lone option in averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. NBA scouts salivate at his ability to score from multiple spots on the court, dominating the paint for easy baskets on the inside and showing the ability to step outside and easily hit a jump shot.

Most games at UNLV, that was a common theme — Bennett rattling the rims with a powerful dunk on one possession, only to smoothly drain a 3-pointer minutes later.

It was so impressive that despite not being able to participate in pre-draft workouts because of shoulder surgery to repair an injury he suffered late in the season at UNLV, Bennett is still widely considered to have the most upside of any player in the draft.

That’s where the coaching staff at UNLV deserves credit. They gave him the freedom to flourish and helped develop his game.

It’s a selling point in recruiting that Rice and his staff, unlike other UNLV coaches the past two decades, will be able to use: Come to UNLV, entrust us with your talents, and you can become a high-draft pick and multimillion-dollar professional.

Sure, UNLV is far from Kentucky, the clear-cut leader in signing elite high school recruits and using them to make deep tournament runs before celebrating their quick jump to NBA. But at least the Rebels are in the conversation of successfully handling top talent.

More important, they have better experience with handling that talent after the trials and tribulations with Bennett. While his dominating performances were often celebrated, there were plenty of flaws that could easily be a red flag to NBA teams.

Bennett was a liability and often took plays off defensively, he wasn’t the best practice player, and stamina was always in question. Some will say this contributed to the UNLV downfall in a season where fans hoped the once-in-generation talent could help lead a deep NCAA Tournament run.

That’s where managing a one-and-done player isn’t easy. It’s human nature for those players to have one foot out the door, knowing the riches of the NBA are months away from becoming a reality.

That’s why some will say Bennett’s stay at UNLV wasn’t successful, using a first-game exit from the tournament as the lone measuring tool. Think outside the box.

While Bennett didn’t help the Rebels reach new heights, he’ll deserve mentioning when it finally happens. He was a trend setter, not a follower. He could have easily gone to Kentucky.

Instead, he was the first big-time recruit in arguably two decades to come directly from high school to UNLV. With the way Rice recruits, he won’t be the last.

“It’s a huge deal for our program,” Rice told the Sun's Taylor Bern this week. “The next 12 to 15 years when Anthony Bennett’s introduced in the NBA, it’s always 'Anthony Bennett, UNLV.'”

Bennett can’t be the last. For the program to continue to progress, there needs to be more five-star recruits, one-and-done careers and high NBA picks.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or Follow Ray on Twitter at

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  1. This is also the same reason why I wanted Shabazz to come to us credibility when a NBA player with high draft expectations joins the program.

  2. I see your point Sinatra, but if the team had chemistry issues last year, it would have been twice as bad with Shabazz.

  3. If having UNLV name announced at NBA games is so important, why doesn't UNLV pay the Euro players who didn't go to college to claim UNLV? Great publicity and still no championships.

  4. Because people aren't idiots (well, some of us, anyway) and there is this thing called the Internet where people can find information, such as where an NBA player played prior to being drafted. You see, a player has to actually play at UNLV in order for UNLV to receive the benefit of them being it the NBA.

    The elite high school players are going to college with an eye toward the NBA. They will not go to a school, in most cases, that cannot help them get to the NBA and improve their draft stock. Anthony Bennett, for example, was projected as a marginal first round draft pick prior to the start of the college basketball season. He is now a certain lottery pick. That marked improvement in his draft stock, along with the fact that UNLV can point to him as proof that players can get to the NBA through UNLV is how UNLV benefits from Anthony Bennett.