The Recruit

The race for Findlay Prep basketball star Anthony Bennett is on—and UNLV aims to win it

If there’s one thing guaranteed to make high school basketball star Anthony Bennett smile, it’s the thought that his exhausting college recruiting process will soon end.

As it stands, the 6-foot-8 senior forward from Henderson’s Findlay Prep is the nation’s top unsigned senior prospect.

April 18 marked the final day of the spring contact period for college coaches, meaning that, outside of his upcoming official visits to a handful of schools, Bennett has heard the last of coaches’ daily sales pitches.

It’s been a whirlwind of phone calls and in-home visits since Bennett wrapped up a wild month of basketball in which he participated in the McDonald’s All-American game and led Findlay to its third ESPN Rise National High School Invitational title.

Bennett—a Toronto native who came to Southern Nevada to play for the high-powered Findlay program—plans to make his decision by early May. He has trimmed his list of suitors to four: UNLV, Florida, Kentucky and Oregon.

On the final day of the contact period, all four got hold of him one way or another. Florida head coach Billy Donovan flew to town for a sit-down before an open-gym session. UNLV associate head coach Justin Hutson and Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield were also in the gym. Earlier in the day, Bennett had spoken by phone with Orlando Antigua, an assistant coach from Kentucky.

Donovan, Hutson and Stubblefield sat together, watching the workout and picturing the damage the ferocious, versatile Bennett could do in their colors next season.

Bennett is already numb to the hype. Most elite basketball recruits who wait until the spring of their senior year to decide on a college say they just wanted to enjoy their senior season to the fullest. Bennett meant it. He doesn’t shower in the love rained down on him from fans around the country, whether it’s from someone in Kentucky via Twitter or simply a fan at the Henderson Walmart. He just goes out and works, usually in a neon-bright pair of Nikes.

“People don’t know that I’m a shy guy,” he says. “I don’t really like talking, I like keeping to myself. I have a small circle, and I don’t really talk to anybody outside of it. It’s a hard decision. After all of these [all-star] games and stuff, I finally have time to think about this now.”

And there’s plenty to think about. Does he …

Go to Kentucky and join John Calipari’s latest haul of elite recruits? The last batch secured the program’s eighth national title last month in New Orleans. Then, the top five underclassmen in the Wildcats’ rotation all declared early for June’s NBA draft.

Go to Florida and give the Gators some much-needed front-court depth? Donovan’s program just made a run to its second straight Elite Eight appearance and is only five years removed from winning back-to-back national championships.

Go to Oregon and take over the starting small forward job from Day One? If playing time as a perimeter piece is Bennett’s biggest concern, Oregon is a serious dark horse in this race.

Go to UNLV and make what is already considered a preseason Top 25 team that much more dangerous? Bennett would not only be the toast of the town that has come to feel like home over the last two years, but he also could team up with friend and fellow Canadian Khem Birch—a 2011 McDonald’s All-American who transferred from Pittsburgh in December. Each school presents different opportunities, and Bennett still isn’t sure which ones mean the most to him; unlike Bishop Gorman’s UCLA-bound Shabazz Muhammad, he hasn’t spent years anticipating this moment.

“I didn’t expect to be a Top 10 player in my class,” he says, reflecting back on his arrival at Findlay. “I just wanted to be a good player, help this team out and go to college. Whatever school I choose, I know it’ll be right for me.”