Leading up to the start of the regular season, RunRebs will be profiling every significant player on the UNLV roster in a series we call “Meet the Rebels.” Today’s focus: freshman forward Anthony Bennett.
Anthony Benentt has the potential to change everything for UNLV.
On the court, off the court — Bennett can take the program to a level that the Rebels haven’t experienced since the early 1990s. And the freshman’s impact could be felt long after he eventually leaves Las Vegas for the equally glamorous lights of the NBA.
But Bennett doesn’t like to think that way. For the 6-foot-8 big man, he’s just trying to win basketball games.
“I just want to do well for the team,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, so I don’t worry about those other things too much. I just want to come out here and win.”
Bennett’s addition should help the Rebels rack up plenty of wins this season. He’s a lock to start from opening night (he started Thursday’s exhibition game), and his skill set fits perfectly into coach Dave Rice’s system. Bennett is physical enough to assert his will under the basket, but he’s also got the shooting touch to hurt teams from beyond the 3-point line.
And his greatest strength is his athleticism. Bennett is fast, powerful and aggressive in the open floor, so he should make a living finishing off fast breaks with his signature two-handed slam.
He could see minutes at all three frontcourt spots, depending on the matchup. Which means opposing defenses will have their work cut out for them.
“Position doesn’t really matter,” Bennett said. “Coach told me I can be playing the 3, 4 and 5. I think he’s gona have me playing the 4 and 5 a lot. But I’ll be in the post, I’ll be out on the wing, wherever coach wants me. I think my game is versatile and that I can do all those things.”
Bennett didn’t shoot particularly well in the Rebels’ exhibition win over Dixie State on Wednesday (2-9, 0-6 on 3-pointers), but he finished with nine points, eight rebounds (four offensive) and two blocks in just 23 minutes. So the freshman is obviously going to contribute a ton to the Rebels on the court this season, but his greatest impact on the program may actually be felt in the years to come.
Considered one of the top 10 high school players in the country when he committed to UNLV, Bennett was the highest-profile recruit to sign with the Rebels in a generation. It was a huge coup for Rice, who is now entering his second year as UNLV head coach. At the time, Rice had gotten commitments from solid, top 100-caliber players like Katin Reinhardt and Daquan Cook, but Bennett was the definition of a big fish.
Getting a McDonald’s All-American to commit to the program, especially so early in Rice’s tenure, could prove to be a game-changer for UNLV.
Recruiting can sometimes be a momentum-driven endeavor, and once Bennett signed on the dotted line, it was like the first domino to fall. The Rebels are now considered among the leaders for several top high schoolers, including California guard Isaac Hamilton, who is ranked No. 15 in the nation. He’ll be visiting UNLV this weekend, and he may not be as reluctant to commit to a non-power conference program if it’s already proved to be a destination for elite, NBA-level talent.
Looking at the situation through that lens, convincing Bennett to come may end up being the most significant move of Rice’s head coaching career to date. The gift that keeps on giving, if you will.
“Anthony has impressed not only with his physical skills, but with his maturity and basketball IQ,” said Rice. “He’s going to be a big part of what we do here from Day One, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him here.”
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