By Neil Davidson
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ Playing for Canada put Anthony Bennett back on track. Now he hopes playing in Canada will keep the good vibe going.
The six-foot-eight 245-pounder spent the summer on national team duty, first at home for the Pan American Games and then in Mexico City at the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.
Now Bennett is looking for a fresh start as a Raptor, a homegrown part of We The North.
“Definitely fun now. I feel Team Canada, I was just playing with a bunch of guys that I grew up with,” Bennett said Monday.
“I feel like this will have a positive effect too … It’s pretty nice to represent Toronto, finally, here at home in front of family and friends,” he added. “(It’s a) pretty exciting feeling.”
Like Bennett, the Raptors believe Toronto could be the right fit although Bennett will have to play his way up the ladder.
“This is an opportunity. This is a good place for him,” said coach Dwane Casey. “He’s home, he should feel comfortable.”
“He’s a super young man and a young talent,” he added. “He’s only 22 years old and it was a good situation for us to bring him back. Not only because he’s Canadian, because he’s a very talented young man who needs a good opportunity.”
Added GM Masai Ujiri: “He’s going to have to work, but I think he’s up for the challenge.”
Bennett, taken first overall by Cleveland in the 2013 NBA draft, credits his time with the national team for making basketball fun again. After stints with the Cavaliers and Minnesota, he hopes playing in his home town will be more of the same.
“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about growing up, watching Vince Carter play,” he said. “Now I’m back here now. (It’s) surreal but at the same time it’s work. I’m just ready to go all out.”
He battled injuries in both his rookie season with the Cavaliers, and second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he landed along with fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins in the Kevin Love deal.
Bennett averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 57 games for the Timberwolves last season.
“Honestly I feel like Team Canada helped me out a whole lot,” he said. “Just playing, the confidence, healthy again. Just going out there and playing with a clear mind _ I feel like that is what I need to get back to.”
Bennett enjoyed both playing for his country and standing shoulder to shoulder with friends.
He says basketball has always been fun. But it has come with expectations and much scrutiny, given his draft position.
“I don’t need to prove anything,” he said. “Just go out there, just play.
“Once I feel like I think about proving people (wrong), that’s when the game becomes complicated. So I’ve just got to keep it as simple as I can.”
Bennett joins fellow Canadian Cory Joseph on the Raptors.
“It’s a great addition,” Joseph said of Bennett. “Obviously one of my good friends.
“I feel like he’s a hard worker, Canada saw how well he did this summer. I feel like there’s a new beginning here. I feel like he’ll do great for us, for the city, for the country. I feel like he’ll revive his NBA career.
“It’s great for him, great for us.”