pro basketball:

The one and only: Cleveland shocks league, taps UNLV’s Bennett at the top

Anthony Bennett becomes second Rebel taken first overall and first Canadian in the position; Shabazz Muhammad drafted at No. 14

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Associated Press

NBA Commissioner David Stern, left, shakes hands with UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, who was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in New York.

2013 NBA Draft

UNLV's Anthony Bennett celebrates after being selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in New York. Launch slideshow »

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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.”

Click to enlarge photo

NBA Commissioner David Stern, left, shakes hands with UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, who was selected by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in New York.

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.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. This is why I have not watched an NBA game in over 22 years. To compare this guy with someone like LJ- what a joke. Bennett has potential to be a great player, but one year of college and the guy was a matador on defense, out of shape and had no physicality in his game- and he is the TOP pick-LMFAO. Great for UNLV and future recruiting, but just a further example of how the NBA has become a league of non basketball.

  2. We had the number one in the country and could not even win our own conference???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  3. Guys, listen. There is nothing to be upset about. I agree that AB should not have been picked 1st, but he was. It's not really a bad fit, remember that MB gets everyone to play defense. But the bottom line was that he was picked 1st. The only down side is it likely keeps CDR's job for now, let's hope next year he has an idea what he is doing.

  4. Don'tcha just love people who have nothing positive to say about someone who gets the chance to live their dream. I saw enough of AB this year to believe he definitely has the potential to be a decent player in the NBA. And while I wish he would have stayed at UNLV one more year, I think of Mike Moser and how his opportunity might have gone by the wayside.

    Good luck to Anthony, and may he have a long career.

  5. This guy would have been a back up on the 1990-91 team. Shows how far the NBA has fallen.

  6. This is absolutely fantastic for Bennett, UNLV and the Las Vegas community. Nothing but congratulations to all involved. A lot of hard work was put in by Bennett and the team, and although the season didn't pan out as well as many of us hoped, it doesn't take this away. You should be proud of the program if nothing else and the style of play and excitement that basketball brings.

  7. Congrats to AB, UNLV, & Findlay Prep. Hopefully all involved will reap some benefit.

    "Stunned" and "Shocking" were thrown around with this pick but that was just the so called "experts" trying to save face. If you really analyze it in terms of injury concerns, potential, and need...the Cavs absolutely made the right choice. We all know this kid's upside...its massive...so they got a stretch 4 who can get to the rim, shoot it, bang, & rebound. Not to mention play a nice pick & pop with Irving. Bennett & Thompson compliment each other nicely in that their strengths are different. The Cavs needed shooting & snagged AB, Karasev, & Crabbe. Mission accomplished if you ask me. They probably would have kept Crabbe but I think they're saving their piggy bank for a run at Lebron...cant hate'em for that. lol

  8. wow this AJ Foyt guy is such a sad individual. Hope someone has him on constant homicide/suicide watch.

    Great day for AB and for UNLV athletics as a whole. UNLV is suddenly on the radar again for every high school player in the country. Will it help Rice land recruits? Who knows. But it'll definitely help persuade the guys on the fence about playing the mountain west and still getting drafted high. I actually thought the Cavs would trade down and select AB because it's such a great fit for their team, but I'm glad to see they thought enough of him to just take him #1 overall.