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Anthony Bennett first Canadian taken No. 1 in NBA draft; Cleveland Cavaliers unite Brampton ballers

Neate Sager
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Concerns about shoulder surgery and lack of a natural position made Anthony Bennett a surprise No. 1 overall pick …

The Cleveland Cavaliers are officially the NBA's Team Canada as this country's golden generation of basketball talent has achieved further affirmation.

In a NBA draft class with no surefire first overall pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers were willing to take a reach on Brampton, Ont.'s Anthony Bennett, the combo forward who starred as a freshman at UNLV. The choice preempts 18-year-old Kansas Jayhawks' phenom Andrew Wiggins' presumably inevitable coronation as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Bennett will also be reunited with fellow Brampton product Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers power forward who was previously the highest Canadian draft pick of all time (No. 4 in 2011).

"It's history, man," Bennett told ESPN when asked what his selection means for Canadian basketball. "Hopefully we can repeat it next year with Andrew Wiggins coming in. It's just a great honour. I'm speechless right now. I don't even know what to say."

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The selection was somewhat shocking to observers; ESPN analyst Bill Simmons exclaimed "Whoa!" as NBA commissioner David Stern called Bennett's name and the Canadian strode to the podium for the traditional handshake with NBA commissioner.

At a burly 6-foot-7, Bennett might be too small by traditional NBA standards for power forward, where Thompson is established with the Cavaliers after two years in the league. The 20-year-old will also have to broaden his perimeter game to improve his prospects at small forward, the 3-spot. One league executive said prior to the draft that Bennett would have been a slam-dunk No. 1 pick if he was three inches taller. On the other hand, the NBA has been trending smaller, creating opportunities for multidimensional scorers. Along with being able to get to the rim at the college level, Bennett shot a solid 37.5 per cent from three-point range during his year at UNLV.

Bennett joins Thompson, Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, Los Angeles Lakers centre Robert Sacre and San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph among the recent Canadian draft picks who are expected to form the nucleus of a team which will contend for a medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Canada has not qualified for the Games in men's basketball since 2000. The announcement of Bennett's name set off delirium within the Canadian basketball community.

Bennett noted to ESPN "there is a little extra name" associated with being the No. 1 overall pick. He will face added scrutiny once cleared to resume basketball activity, but having to face doubters is nothing new for a Canadian baller. Meantime, the country has a sporting feat it's never seen before that might not come around again for a whole 12 months.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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