Stephen Sylvanie / Special to the Las Vegas Sun
Published Monday, April 1, 2013 | 3:04 p.m.
Updated Monday, April 1, 2013 | 4:20 p.m.
- Source says Rebels’ Bennett heading to the NBA
- Two Rebels off to great starts on USA Elite Under-23 team in France
- Improvement in full-court pressure an important piece of Rebels’ 2013-14 puzzle
- Five-star forward in the class of 2014 commits to UNLV
- Rebels could have lineup options for different styles of play next season
- Take 5: Looking at the issues UNLV will face in 2013-14
- UNLV Extras: Cal loss will be the takeaway from Rebels’ 2012-13 season
- Run as one and done: Rebels bounced in first tourney game for the fourth straight year
- Bennett the key to Rebels’ bid to finally move on in NCAA Tournament
- Tourney Treats: Mountain West officially back in the ESPN family
- All UNLV men's basketball coverage
Anthony Bennett sat down at a table upstairs in the Mendenhall Center on Monday afternoon as a UNLV freshman. He stood up as a former Rebel.
“I’m here to announce that I’m declaring for the 2013 NBA Draft,” Bennett said while sitting next to UNLV coach Dave Rice.
Las Vegas has been expecting this news since at least November, yet it wasn’t easy for the man delivering it. Bennett said he made his decision about a week ago but was still emotional in the days leading up to his announcement. His first words came out through a shaky voice as Bennett fought back tears.
“As you can see I have mixed emotions about this,” Bennett said. “It’s not the easiest decision I’ve made in my life but I’m pretty happy about it.”
The freshman made his UNLV debut against Northern Arizona with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting and seven rebounds. He scored in double digits the first 17 games, vaulting up mock draft boards all the while.
“We were in constant communication with NBA personnel,” said Rice, who added that every NBA team had been to at least one UNLV game or practice. “Anthony had come to us from Findlay Prep as a very good player and was leaving here with an opportunity to be a very, very high draft pick.”
Bennett said he hasn't yet hired an agent. Mike George, one of the co-founders of CIA Bounce, Bennett's AAU team, recently left the program to become an NBA agent, so he's the clear frontrunner.
Most projections have Bennett in the top five. He’s the first Rebel to leave early for the NBA Draft since Shawn Marion in 1999. Marion, though, transferred to UNLV from a junior college, making Bennett the first player in program history to make the jump after coming to UNLV straight out of high school.
“I won’t be wearing a UNLV jersey anymore but I’ll always be a Runnin’ Rebel for life,” Bennett said.
Bennett led the team in points (16.1 per game) and rebounds (8.1) this season. His production stated to dip in conference play, when opponents had more tape to study and made it a priority to contain him. Bennett was also slowed by a shoulder injury at the end of February.
However, he bounced back in the Mountain West tournament, scoring 42 points on 16-for-22 shooting in the first two games and scoring all 11 of UNLV’s points in the first five minutes against New Mexico before notching just four the rest of the way. The Rebels lost that tournament finale and then got knocked out of the NCAA Tournament less than a week later against Cal in the Round of 64.
That was the Rebels’ fourth straight first-game exit in the tournament and Bennett won’t be around to help UNLV try to snap that streak next season. It’s still possible the Rebels could be without Mike Moser, too. The junior forward wasn’t present for a 2013-14 team meeting Sunday night.
“He’s still exploring his options,” Rice said. “Mike and I will sit down and talk when he gets back.”
Moser was expected to return from Portland Monday evening. If Moser decides to get feedback from the NBA, his application deadline is April 10, and the league has five days to respond. Moser then must decide by April 16 whether or not to keep his name in the draft pool. The NBA actually gives players until April 28, but a recent NCAA rule change moved its requirement date up to the day before the spring signing period, which starts April 17.
For Bennett, these are the important dates: May 15-19 (NBA Draft combine in Chicago), May 21 (NBA Draft lottery), June 27 (NBA Draft in New York City). From now until then he will be picked apart and dissected by every team in the lottery. His size (6-foot-8, 240 pounds) and offensive versatility are the reason teams are so interested. The common detractions are his defense and consistency.
“I know it’s not going to be easy but I’m ready to learn and work hard and also support the family,” Bennett said.
Bennett said his mother, Edith, told him to “do what’s best for me and do what I felt was right.” Based on all the feedback from NBA personnel this was the logical decision. And while the Rebels must replace his production, it doesn’t hurt to have a one-and-done player drafted high and playing in the NBA.
“The thing that excites me is for the next 10 to 15 years in the NBA, every time it says Anthony Bennett, it will say Anthony Bennett — UNLV,” Rice said. “And that speaks volumes for what he’s meant for this program.”
Even 20 minutes after the press conference, after all the interviews and most of the pictures were done, Bennett was still fighting back tears while hugging Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Khem Birch, the two teammates in attendance. Bennett said he knows it won’t be easy, something he’ll find out first hand soon enough.
“It’s been my dream to play for a team in the NBA, but everything just hit me now, like it’s the real world,” Bennett said.
After talking with Birch, Bennett started to head for the exit and what lay ahead. Before he left, Bennett turned around and lofted a crumbled up paper towel from about 10 feet away to the bottom of an oversized wastebasket.
Always end on a make.