INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — There was already plenty of drama and suspense leading into this year's NBA draft.
The Cavaliers opened it with a shocking surprise.
Keeping their pick a closely guarded secret until the last minute, the Cavs stunned experts — and their fans — by selecting UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall selection in the NBA draft.
It was the third straight year Cavs general manager Chris Grant went outside the box in the first round. Two years ago, Cleveland took forward Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick — after taking guard Kyrie Irving first — and selected guard Dion Waiters in the same spot a year ago.
With speculation centered on them likely taking either Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Maryland's Alex Len, the Cavs nabbed the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Bennett, who averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in one season for the Runnin' Rebels.
Sitting at a table with family members in New York, Bennett was caught off guard when commissioner David Stern called his name.
"I'm just as surprised as everybody else," Bennett said.
Grant said the team whittled its list of potential candidates down to a "couple guys" by late Wednesday and finalized their decision to take Bennett following a Thursday morning meeting.
"He was one of those guys when you walked out of the gym when you saw him play, you kind of went 'Wow,'" Grant said. "He just does things you don't see other people do, so he was always a guy highly in our mix throughout the entire season."
Bennett, the first Canadian player taken with the top pick, was considered a longshot to land with Cleveland, and was rarely mentioned as a possibility in the days leading up to the draft. But the Cavs liked his skills, athleticism and potential.
"He's got a chance to grow in a lot of different areas," Grant said.
Grant said the Cavs listened to trade offers for the pick since winning the lottery on May 21, and seemed intent on dealing it. But unable to find a partner or suitable offer, Cleveland passed on big men Noel and Len, who are both recovering from injuries, and took Bennett.
Grant said the Cavs strongly considered Noel and Len "up until the last two or three days."
Bennett, too, is rehabbing after undergoing surgery on a torn left rotator cuff in his shoulder. But the injury didn't scare off the Cavs, who are determined to get back to the playoffs after losing 58 games last season and firing coach Byron Scott.
Bennett said he's lifting weights and should be able to play by August. He also dismissed reports that his weight has ballooned by over 25 pounds while he's been recovering. He said he's gained about 15.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown, rehired by owner Dan Gilbert after he was fired three years ago, has some history with Bennett. Brown's oldest son had a high school teammate who played in college with Bennett and Brown was able to get a firsthand look at Bennett.
Grant, too, scouted Bennett and was impressed with his ability to finish at the rim.
Bennett is considered a "tweener" by draft analysts, but with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he's convinced he can play power or small forward.
"I can contribute at the four, at the three," he said. "There's things I still need to work on, but I feel like I'm a great teammate, unselfish. I think I can just fit in right away. Everyone says I'm undersized as a power forward. They said that in high school and said it in college, and I just did my thing."
Grant said Bennett could handle himself at small forward, but he's a true power player.
"You see that in his game from a rebounding and scoring and attacking the basket mentality," Grant said.
In the second round, the Cavaliers selected 19-year-old Russian swingman Sergey Karasev with 19th pick. The Cavs targeted Karasev for some time and were thrilled to get the 6-foot-7 Karasev, who has returned to Europe to play for the Russian national team.
The Cavs addressed their backcourt depth in the second round, selecting a pair of Pac-12 guards: California's Allen Crabbe and Arizona State's Carrick Felix.
Crabbe was taken with the No. 31 overall pick, but the Cavs will trade him to Portland for two future second-round picks. Two picks later, the Cavs grabbed the 6-foot-6 Felix, who averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds for the Sun Devils.
The Cavs have had great success with No. 1 picks. Bennett joins Austin Carr (1971), Brad Daugherty (1986), LeBron James (2003) and Irving (11) as players taken by Cleveland first overall — an impressive roll call.
Grant's track record in drafts is equally notable.
Irving was an easy choice, although there were some questions about his durability after he played in just 11 games as a freshman at Duke because of a foot injury. But he's developed into an All-Star and is among the league's top playmakers.
Bennett is looking forward to being on the floor with Irving.
"He's putting up numbers," Bennett said. "He's doing his thing. Now I can officially say he's my teammate."
Thompson, who is also Canadian, was viewed as a project when the Cavs picked him higher than most expected. But he blossomed in his second season, averaging 11.7 points and 8.2 rebounds and playing all 82 games.
Waiters didn't get to play alongside Irving as much as the Cavs had hoped, but he showed a fearlessness going to the basket and averaged 14.7 points.
There are questions about Bennett's game, and it's unlikely he will crack Cleveland's starting lineup next season. But Bennett promised to work hard and doesn't feel burdened to live up to the high expectations that come with being the top pick.
"Everybody says it's a lot of pressure," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just the game of basketball.
"I've just got to go out and play."