NBA Draft 2013: Canadian Forward Anthony Bennett Goes #1 To Cleveland

Anthony Bennett first ever Canadian to be No. 1 pick at NBA draft

“With the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select…”

Heading into Thursday night’s NBA Draft, everyone knew there were a number of names outgoing commissioner David Stern could drop after his first of many dramatic pauses.

Big men Nerlens Noel and Alex Len, Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, Kansas standout Ben McLemore, and Georgetown swing Otto Porter Jr. were the top five players on just about everyone’s mock draft.

“… Anthony Bennett, from Toronto, Canada, and the University of Nevada Las Vegas.”

A collective gasp echoed through the Barclays Center. ESPN basketball analyst Bill Simmons was so caught off guard that “The Worldwide Leader” ran a replay of his reaction.

Bennett, however, was all smiles, striding to the stage to shake hands with Stern, a future trivia question ready to take his considerable talents to the shores of Lake Erie.

The 20-year-old from Brampton, Ontario becomes the first Canadian to be selected with the #1 pick in the NBA Draft, an historic achievement for basketball in this country many expected would come next year with Andrew Wiggins, the athletic, Kansas-bound kid who has been declared the best prospect since LeBron James is eligible for the draft.

Bennett will join a Cleveland Cavaliers team that quickly added some quality pieces after James took his talents to South Beach, including former #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving, and fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson, who was the highest drafted Canuck prior to Cleveland’s selection of Bennett; Thompson went fourth overall to the Cavs in 2011.

During his one year on the court for the Runnin’ Rebels, Bennett drew favourable comparisons to UNLV’s only previous #1 overall selection, Larry Johnson, who averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over a 10-year career split between Charlotte and New York.

The 6-foot-7-inch Bennett can score with his back to the basket or facing up, much like Johnson, and has the size and athleticism to hold his own defensively and on the glass. He averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds per game last season at UNLV, earning National Freshman of the Year and Naismith Award consideration, and was projected to go in the first 10 picks of Thursday night’s draft; just not first overall.

But in a draft filled with question marks and lacking any sure-fire all-stars, the Cavaliers took the player they felt has the most upside and the greatest potential to help their improving team in the coming years.

And Canadian basketball fans got another reminder that the future of the sport is bright in this country.

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