Friday, June 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Vote: Was Bennett right for No. 1?
- Do you think Anthony Bennett was the right choice for the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first pick?
- Yes — 78.5%
- No — 21.5%
This poll is closed, see Full Results »
Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
Todd Simon has probably never had more interest in the next words to stammer from a man’s mouth than while he was viewing the NBA Draft on Thursday night. Watching the event from a restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Findlay Prep coach allowed his mind to race during NBA Commissioner David Stern’s dramatic pause before announcing the first pick at the Barclays Center in New York.
“I was already out of my seat as soon as Stern had that stutter and you could tell he had an A coming out of his mouth,” Simon said.
By the time Stern finished his statement, Simon erupted in cheers and UNLV had its second No. 1 pick in draft history. The Cleveland Cavaliers started off a wild draft with a surprise pick, selecting Rebel freshman Anthony Bennett first overall.
The uncertainty about what the Cavs would do with that pick — who they would select or if they’d trade it — lasted right until the moment they made Bennett a multimillionaire.
“I found out the same time as everybody else,” Bennett told CBSSports.com. “It was a really surprising moment for me.”
Bennett joins Larry Johnson, the player he’s been most compared to all season, as the Rebels’ top picks in the modern draft. Johnson went No. 1 in 1991, followed by teammates Stacey Augmon (No. 9) and Greg Anthony (No. 12). Overall Bennett is the 14th Rebel taken in the first round and the eighth in the top 10.
The Brampton, Ontario, native became the first Canadian selected No. 1, breaking a record set by fellow Brampton native and former Findlay Prep star Tristan Thompson when he went No. 4 in 2011. Now those two will be teammates in Cleveland as Thompson, an emerging NBA player, will help Bennett adjust to NBA life.
“He’s from the neighborhood and he’s walked in (Bennett’s) shoes,” Simon said. “He gets the league. That helps. There’s a trust factor there. He can help Anthony get through that rookie season.”
Even more helpful may be Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, one of the best young players in the league. While health concerns had people speculating Bennett may slip in the draft it’s now clear Cleveland is betting on the first-team All-Mountain West player’s considerable upside.
The draft experience wasn’t quite the same for former Bishop Gorman and UCLA wing Shabazz Muhammad, who was in New York but didn’t receive a green room invite. While his family and Gorman coach Grant Rice sat in the stands located just in front of ESPN’s broadcast table, Muhammad watched from a hotel across the street.
Rice said they were a little let down when the Minnesota Timberwolves, who they believed were targeting Muhammad, passed on him at No. 9. But as they waited a few more picks Muhammad got word a couple of minutes before it was official that Minnesota had traded its ninth pick, Michigan’s Trey Burke, to the Utah Jazz for Muhammad at No. 14 and the 21st pick, Louisville big man Gorgui Dieng.
“It’s a real good fit,” Grant Rice said of the Timberwolves, who have point guard Ricky Rubio and former UCLA forward Kevin Love. “As funny as it sounds he’s really excited to go to Minnesota.”
Muhammad eventually made it across the street to have his moment onstage with Stern. That came right after pick No. 20 when the Chicago Bulls took New Mexico’s Tony Snell. That was the second of a league record four Mountain West picks on the night. San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin had a long wait before going No. 41 to the Memphis Grizzlies and at No. 53 the Indiana Pacers drafted Colorado State’s Colton Iverson, whose rights were traded to the Boston Celtics.
In between those two picks former Desert Pines and Baylor guard Pierre Jackson went No. 42 to the Philadelphia 76ers. Texas freshman Myck Kabongo, who was Bennett’s teammate at Findlay Prep, was a second-round prospect but did not get drafted.
Grant Rice had a front-row seat to the draft’s sudden twists and turns early on. A big shock was Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, who for a long time was the presumed top pick, slipping to No. 6.
“You could see everyone’s reaction; Noel’s head dropped after the first pick and then people couldn’t believe he kept sliding,” Grant Rice said. “After the surprise when they chose Anthony Bennett we knew it was going to be an interesting night.”
UNLV coach Dave Rice watched the draft from home. Like Simon he knew the top spot was still a possibility for Bennett, but also like Simon he didn’t know it for sure until Stern finished his sentence.
“I did not know where he was going to be picked,” Dave Rice said. “Having said that, it’s been very busy the last several weeks with NBA teams calling and double checking and triple checking. I knew most of the teams at the top of the draft liked Anthony a lot but nobody tipped their hands.”
Dave Rice already expected to have an ace in the hole on recruiting trips as Bennett had been listed in the top five for several months. The Cavs’ surprise selection only strengthens that position and makes the Rebels an even bigger player with elite recruits.
“Any young player that any school is trying to get, all of them aspire to play in the NBA,” Dave Rice said. “Now in the second year of our tenure we have not just a first round pick but the No. 1 overall. … The difference for him was his basketball IQ and his character. It’s evident from all NBA teams how much everyone liked him personally.”
The rookie wage scale will ensure Bennett’s mom, Edith, never has to work double shifts again. Bennett will make approximately $4.4 million his first season while Muhammad, who’s UCLA’s first first-round pick since 2009, is in line for about $1.6 million. Their rookie contracts, which increase slightly in the next two years and greatly in year four, are for two years with team options in years three and four and qualifying offers in year five.
Simon is down in Arizona for a Findlay Prep camp. Recent years have made the draft mean something more but he said he’s always been a fan of it, sitting down to watch every year. This year he couldn’t stay seated for very long.
“This is surreal,” he said.