Another WI star
West Indians are making names for themselves in a vast array of Canadian life, be it in literature, medicine, politics, business or teaching.
Now add sport to the list. Several Bajans have made it in Canada’s national pastime, hockey and going up against the best in the National Hockey League. Joel Ward and Kevin Weekes come quickly to mind.
A Barbadian-Canadian, Damian Warner is Canada’s top decathlete and one of the world’s highest ranked competitor in the decathlon, dreaming of a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics.
In the 2012 Games in London the sons of four Bajans were on Canada’s track and field and yachting teams. Of course, there is Fergusson Jenkins, a famous pitcher and the son of a Bajan father. He became the first and only Canadian to be elected to the United States baseball Hall Of Fame.
Bajans, Trinidadians, Jamaicans, Guyanese and other West Indians have also represented Canada in cricket.
Now to that list of sports, one can add basketball.
Later this year, Anthony Bennett may routinely play small forward next season for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers but the West Indian-Canadian is anything but tiny.
At six feet, eight inches tall and 240 pounds, the 20-year-old was the overall No.1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft and is expected to propel Cleveland to a championship.
But the story about Bennett’s life, how he emerged as the first player in Canadian history to be No.1 player overall in the NBA is as remarkable off the court as it is on it.
The son of a Jamaican nurse, Edith Bennett, who left her birthplace in 1980 in search of a better life in Canada, will be a multi-millionaire in a matter of weeks when he signs with the NBA franchise in Ohio.
But he has set his sights on repaying his mother for the hard work, love, commitment and inspiration she gave him as a youngster growing up in a home that often lacked material things.
“I just want to pay her back for everything she has done,” he said even before he was drafted into the NBA.
Born in Toronto and raised in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood, a tough section of Canada’s best known city, Bennett’s path to the NBA was paved with athleticism, much of which he inherited from his mother, his determination to make it to the highest ranks of professional basketball and the opportunities the sport opened up for him as a top-notch player in high school in Canada, prep academy in West Virginia and eventually at the University of Nevada at Last Vegas (UNLV).
“He’s a good kid,” his mother told a reporter.
Looking back on the early years which were often marked by days when money was very scarce in the Bennett household Anthony often had to go to school without lunch. Through it all, his mother said he took it in stride.
“He was satisfied with what little I had,” she recalled. “He never complained. If he’d ask for something and I didn’t have it, he said: ‘OK’ because he knew when I had it he would get it.”
From Jane and Finch, Edith moved her three children to Brampton and that’s where his basketball prowess eventually began to show itself at the Harold Brathwaite High School.
Soon basketball coaches from academies in the United States began knocking on the door trying to recruit him after word got around how good he was as a 16-year-old. Universities in Florida, Oregon, Washington, Kentucky and Nevada came calling urging him to consider their universities. In the end he chose UNLV.
Bennett and others who know the family credit his mother for passing on the athletics genes that have made the difference between good and great on the court. Edith, a single mother, often worked two jobs at a hospital and a mental health facility in Toronto to support her children while studying to be nurse.
Back in Jamaica, she had played netball and during her teenage years she was also a track athlete and competed in the high jump. That love of sport triggered her interest in basketball.
As Anthony moved through Toronto schools and basketball competitions became a passion, his star rose at every juncture, opening up opportunities for him to play at Mountain State Academy in West Virginia in 2009 and Findlay Prep, just outside Las Vegas in 2010.
“When I first went to prep school, I was just a regular baller,” Bennett said. “But pretty soon, people said I could be great.”
Last season, he played 35 games for the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV in the NCAA Division 1, playing mostly at power forward but on many occasions at the small forward spot. He averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds a game despite playing only 27 minutes a game. He shot 53.3 per cent from the field and 37.5 per cent from three-point range.
Bennett has represented Canada in the Under-17 World Championship, helping his country to win a bronze medal.
All along the way he had set his sights on playing in the NBA and on helping his mother and two siblings.
In an interview, his mother urged him not to “pressure himself.”
After all, she insisted, “he’s just a kid. He’s not supposed to take all that responsibility on his shoulders.”
Still, he remains adamant he must do everything to improve his mother’s life.