Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Anthony Bennett’s shock at hearing his name as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft probably wasn’t too dissimilar from your own.
The biggest difference is that when the newest Cleveland Cavalier leaped out of his chair on June 28 and gave a few fist pumps, he became an instant multimillionaire suddenly burdened with a weight of expectations. If you leaped up in your living room, someone may have looked at you funny as you sat back down.
But Bennett's smile? Genuine surprise. Even the people who “knew” Bennett would go No. 1 back in November didn’t actually know until it was official. And when that moment did come, Bennett’s mind was a jumble of excitement and nerves.
Meeting with reporters Monday at the Mendenhall Center, Bennett couldn’t pinpoint the first thing he thought after hearing his name called, or even just one thing. Basically, he thought about everything.
“I was just so excited for what’s to come,” Bennett said.
The two-year Findlay Prep Pilot and one-year Rebel is sitting out the NBA Summer League after offseason shoulder surgery, but he still carved time into a suddenly packed schedule for a few days in Las Vegas. From the sounds of it, his time here isn’t nearly as long as he would like.
“It’s crazy all the love I get,” Bennett said of coming back to Las Vegas. Plus it's a chance to hit favorite spots like Bahama Breeze, although once he has time to explore his new hometown, Bennett may find out the franchise has a Cleveland location. Cleveland also has Chipotle, which has helped tide him over as Bennett has worked at rehab while adjusting to the attention and expectations that come with his draft slot.
“A lot of traveling,” Bennett said of his recent schedule. “It’s something I’ve got to get adjusted to.”
He’s got help in that department. Tristan Thompson, a fellow Canadian and former Pilot, has been showing Bennett around Cleveland. Thompson was the No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft, three spots after top overall pick Kyrie Irving. Now both of them are key pieces — along with Bennett, guard Dion Waiters (4th pick, 2012) and recent free agent signee Andrew Bynum — for a Cavs team expected to make noise in the Eastern Conference.
Bennett said he hasn’t yet met with any teammates besides Thompson, although he did enjoy a courtside seat Monday for the Cavs’ Summer League game at the Thomas & Mack Center. Waiters and center Tyler Zeller are regular rotation guys on that roster, and Zeller will hang around after the Summer League schedule for Team USA mini-camp with Irving and more than 20 other young NBA stars.
Bennett will be gone by then, though before he leaves he should be back into a regular workout schedule. Bennett said he was cleared for everything except contact drills starting Wednesday and he hopes to be able to practice by the end of August. Once he can do that, Bennett will work to build the skills that got him noticed in the first place.
“There’s no doubt he’ll continue to improve just the way he improved from his time at Findlay to UNLV,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
Rice popped over to Mendenhall to see Bennett during a brief respite from the recruiting schedule that takes over college basketball in July. So did Todd Simon, Bennett and Thompson’s high school coach, who has traded in his Navy Findlay polo for the bright red future recruits can easily spot when he’s in the stands.
The color helps, but more important right now are the four letters embroidered on the left side. Rice knew a high draft pick would benefit UNLV on the recruiting trail. In the weeks after Bennett went No. 1, Rice said, he’s already seeing signs of that.
“What it does is serve notice that what we’ve always said in the recruiting process is true,” he said, “that UNLV is a viable option for high-level players.”
Bennett hasn’t signed his rookie contract yet. When he does, he’ll pull in about $4.5 million in the first year alone.
If you believe him, Bennett hasn’t mentally spent much of that money. His first big purchase isn’t even up to him, he said.
“Whatever my mom wants,” Bennett said. “She’s (in Canada) thinking about it now.”
While she ponders that, Bennett’s focus is on getting back on the court and beginning his career. The shock is mostly gone. Now it’s time to work.