Anthony Bennett made Canadian basketball history Thursday, becoming the first player from north of the border to be selected first overall in the NBA draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers stunned the league by selecting the UNLV freshman forward, who has starred for Canada's junior national team and was the Mountain West Conference player of the year.
"I'm just as surprised as everybody else,'' Bennett said moments after he strode across the stage in his scarlet and grey suit _ UNLV colours. "I didn't really have any idea who's going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I'm just real happy, glad that I have this opportunity, and I just got to thank God for everything.''
Tristan Thompson of Brampton was selected No. 4 by the Cavaliers in the 2011 draft, making him the highest Canadian draft pick before Thursday. Teen phenom Andrew Wiggins of Thornhill, Ont., who'll play for Kansas next season, is projected to go first overall in the 2014 draft.
"Yeah. It's just crazy. Made history. I can't really complain about that,'' said Bennett, who had between 25 and 30 family members with him in New York _ he lost count. ``It's just like a long time dream that I had since I first started playing basketball, even though it was six or seven years ago. It's just crazy. Next year with Wiggins, hopefully he does well at Kansas. I'm rooting for him. I'm pretty sure he'll get that No. 1 spot.''
Steve Nash of Victoria held the previous Canadian record, going 15th overall to the Phoenix Suns in 1996. The Los Angeles Lakers star, who's also the general manager of Canada's men's team, retweeted the NBA's announcement adding: "Proud on Proud!''
Prime Minister Stephen Harper posted on Twitter "Congrats to (at)AnthonyBennett for being the first Cdn ever drafted #1 overall in the NBA draft. Good luck in Cleveland, we're all behind you.''
There was suspense right until the end, either because the Cavs were unsure who they wanted or were trying to trade the pick. Most predictions had them taking one of the big men Nerlens Noel and Alex Len.
Orlando passed on both of them, too, going with Indiana swingman Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 pick. Washington took Otto Porter Jr. of Georgetown with the third pick.
Bennett has been sidelined since having rotator cuff surgery in May, and didn't participate in the draft combine or any pre-draft workouts. The 20-year-old clearly impressed in his interviews _ he interviewed for the top five teams in the draft _ and his play in college last season.
Bennett had surgery a few weeks after the Runnin' Rebels were upset in the second round of March Madness in a 64-61 loss to California, but said Wednesday he wasn't concerned the injury would hurt his chances in the draft. He was bang on.
Ten years after the Cavaliers selected LeBron James to start a draft that would include his future NBA championship teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the top five, this one lacked the star power and perhaps the promise of stardom.
Noel and Len are also coming off injuries and couldn't work out for teams either.
David Stern, booed heavily in his final draft as commissioner, added to the surprise of the moment by pausing slightly before announcing the Cavs' pick, their first at No. 1 since taking all-star Kyrie Irving in 2011.
It was a good start to the night for the Hoosiers, with Cody Zeller going two places after Oladipo to the Charlotte Bobcats.