No one, even the man most coveted among all NBA draft picks Thursday night, saw this coming.
Anthony Bennett, the history-making first overall selection in NBA draft, was caught as off guard as anyone when the Cleveland Cavaliers took him first overall to kick off a night of surprises.
“I’m just as surprised as anybody else,” the Toronto native said after he became the highest drafted Canadian in NBA history.
“I didn’t really have any idea who’s going No. 1 or who . . . was going No. 2. I heard everybody was up for grabs.
“But I’m just real happy, glad that I have this opportunity, and I just got to thank God for everything.”
Bennett, a six-foot-seven forward, attended Findlay Prep in Handerson, Nev., before spending one year at UNVL where his versatile game immediate evoked memories of former UNLV standout Larry Johnson.
“He can play, just not a defined position,” one NBA coach said of Bennett.
The selection was wildly unexpected. The Cavaliers were expected by many to choose Kentucky centre Nerlens Noel or even Maryland big man Alex Len before choosing Bennett as the third first overall Cleveland pick in the last 10 years.
The Cavs took LeBron James first overall in 2003 and Kyrie Irving first two years ago.
“I’m as surprised as anyone,” Bennett said.
That Bennett was the first overall selection belies any belief that pre-draft workouts are a huge component in the selection process.
The 20-year-old eschewed the pre-draft process to have surgery on a wonky right shoulder, convinced that his one season at UNLV was enough to convince NBA general managers of his worth.
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He did visit teams with the top-five selections in the draft to meet with front office personnel but did not do any on-court activity.
“The shoulder feels fine,” he said earlier this month. “I’m doing rehab out on Long Island.
“I want to show everybody what I can do, but I’ve just got to get this out of the way.’’
The one knock about Bennett is that he may not have a traditional position in the NBA. Some scouts see him in that nebulous “tweener” category, too small to be a power forward, too limited offensively to be a small forward.
“I’m versatile,” he told the Charlotte Observer earlier this month. “I can play inside and out. Once I get my jump shot consistent, that will be a huge advantage for me playing the stretch 4. I can play pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop. I’ll be a great fit wherever I go.”
While the unexpected selection of Bennett through the top of the draft into disarray, the Raptors remained out of the first-round fray.
General manager Masai Ujiri, handling his first draft less than a month after taking the Toronto job, worked hard at trying to get into the top half of the first round but was rebuffed in his attempts to make a trade.
But there were several other transactions that made the draft one of the most active in years and the lottery part of the process was full of surprises.
Ten years after the Cavaliers selected James to start a draft that would include his future NBA championship teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the top five, this one lacked star power and perhaps even the promise of stardom.
Bennett, Noel and Len are all coming off injuries and couldn’t even work out for teams, but the Cavs decided Bennett’s shoulder surgery wasn’t enough cause for concern.
Len walked up to meet commissioner David Stern and collect his orange Suns hat, then sat down near the stage to put on the walking boot he needs for the stress fracture of his left ankle that was discovered after Maryland’s season.
Noel finally went to New Orleans with the next pick. He didn’t seem upset at his fall down the draft board, hugging his mother and shaking hands with Wildcats coach John Calipari.
He also didn’t remain New Orleans property for long. The newly renamed Pelicans sent Noel to the 76ers for all-star point guard Jrue Holiday. New Orleans also sent the 76ers a protected 2014 first-round pick and received the Sixers’ second-round selection — 42nd overall — in this year’s draft, The Associated Press reported.
The six-foot-four Holiday, a four-year pro, averaged 17.7 points and eight assists for the 76ers last season, when he also agreed to a four-year extension worth about $41 million.
It was a good start to the night for the Hoosiers, with Cody Zeller going two places after Oladipo to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Kansas guard Ben McLemore, another player who was considered a potential top-three pick, also dropped, going seventh to Sacramento.
Headed by a lacklustre class, the draft promised confusion and second-guessing, with no consensus No. 1 pick and little agreement among the order of the top five.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also took to Twitter, writing “Congrats to @AnthonyBennett for being the first Cdn ever drafted #1 overall in the NBA draft. Good luck in Cleveland, we’re all behind you.”
With files from The Associated Press