VANCOUVER — Dwane Casey says his expectations for Anthony Bennett this season are simple. He hopes Bennett rediscovers his love for the game.
The 22-year-old wasn’t expected play Sunday in what would have been his first game for his hometown team, as the Toronto Raptors opened the NBA pre-season against the Los Angeles Clippers at Rogers Arena.
Bennett hyperextended his shoulder in practice.
But Casey and Clippers coach Doc Rivers both spoke at length about the Toronto native, who’s had a rough go in his first two seasons in the NBA after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2013.
“He’s a talented young man, he’s doing some things that surprised all of us offensively and defensively, but most of all . . . enjoy the game, get the stigma of being the No. 1 pick off his shoulders, and just enjoy the game,” Casey said.
“That’s the most important thing. No expectations right now, just get better, work hard, work his butt every day in practice, and get better and enjoy basketball, enjoy coming to the gym every day.”
The Raptors signed the six-foot-eight 245-pounder a week before camp opened. Bennett was coming off a solid summer spent with Canada’s national team, playing first at home for the Pan American Games and then in Mexico City at the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.
Rivers said he sympathized with Bennett’s predicament.
“He got a lot of criticism, first draft pick. . . Shouldn’t worry about it, it’s not his fault that he was drafted where he was drafted,” River said. “And the draft is for one day, whether you’re high or low, I always tell my players that really it’s a number someone gave you that day, where would you be tomorrow if they drafted again, and then again the next day if they drafted again.”
Criticism is tough for young players who are accustomed to starring for university teams.
“Some handle it well, some don’t. I think he’ll find his way. He’s home, he’s probably in a more comfortable surrounding,” Rivers said. “Some guys read (what’s written about them). I did as a player, I wish I hadn’t honestly. I think even the positive stuff is not good to read honestly.
“The team can help him. . . the best way they can help him is by playing well, and they’re in no rush for him to be great yet.”
Bennett, taken first overall by Cleveland, said his time with the national team had made playing fun again, and after stints with the Cavaliers and Minnesota, he hopes playing in his home town will be more of the same.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press