Here's a 19-year-old athlete the country should be ready to lose its mind over. By this time next year, Brampton, Ont.'s Anthony Bennett will be in the NBA.
The reaction by basketball insiders south of the border on Sunday only confirmed what Canadian eyes have seen, but it was a-star-is-born stuff. Bennett led his UNLV Rebels to a last-second 76-75 win over the California Golden Bears and kick-started the hype machine for the NBA draft. The main post-game story from a UNLV perspective was their best experienced forward, Mike Moser, suffered a serious injury. The buzz was about Bennett, who had a man-sized 25 points and 13 rebounds and threw down a nasty dunk late in the game that set mouths to "salivate."
Bennett has been pegged as part of a coming golden generation in Canadian hoops for some time, especially after helping the national men's under-17 team win a bronze medal at the world championship in 2010. Observers also knew UNLV was getting a 19-year-old with NBA potential coursing through that tank-like 6-foot-8 frame when Bennett chose to play in Las Vegas rather than for John Calipari at Kentucky. Crushing it against Cal seemed to launched him to another strata. Never mind that Bennett has only played eight games for UNLV. It tends to happen that fast with one-and-done freshmen.
From Gary Parrish, CBS' college basketball writer:
He looked very much like a future NBA Draft lottery pick, particularly on a baseline drive past California's Robert Thurman — and emphatic dunk over California's David Kravish — that tied the score 72-72 with 60 seconds remaining.
"I just went baseline," Bennett said. "And I just took off."
Boy, did he ever just take off.
His national reputation took off, too.
The 6-foot-7 freshman is now averaging 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for the 21st-ranked Rebels, and suddenly Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart has some competition for National Freshman of the Year honors. (Eye on College Basketball)
Twitter also blew up talking about Bennett. It wasn't just fans gushing, either.
There may be players as good --- but nobody in the country looks better than Anthony Bennett right now. Straight man child for UNLV.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 10, 2012
Breakout game for Anthony Bennett. Made a lot of money tonight. Gutsy win for UNLV with Moser out most of the game. — Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) December 10, 2012
This Anthony Bennett is pretty good. I mean REAL GOOD!
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) December 10, 2012
Jay Triano, Canada's National Team coach, told me in September that Bennett was most impressive college player at training camp in August. — Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) December 10, 2012
Only 1 game, but based on what I just saw UNLV's Anthony Bennett should be #1 pick in NBA. My goodness what a beast - total package.
— Dave Flemming (@FlemmingDave) December 10, 2012
Checking out UNLV's Anthony Bennett at Cal. True freshman better than advertised.
— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) December 10, 2012
UNLV's Anthony Bennett ought to just go ahead and enter the NBA Draft at halftime. Looks like a man playing with kids out here right now.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) December 10, 2012
Can Canadian networks start running UNLV broadcasts instead of NHL lockout chatter? Or instead of Toronto Raptors games? The country invests so much in 19-year-old hockey players every December, but some ample space should be made to invest in Bennett. It would take minds off the absence of hockey and the Raptors being 4-17. And here we were thinking the buzz about another Canadian baller going at the top of the NBA draft would wait until 2014, when Andrew Wiggins is expected to be the first player chosen.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.