Larry Johnson sees the similarities. He doesn’t necessarily agree with the outright comparison, but he gets it.
He was an undersized power forward at UNLV with an offensive arsenal before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft; Anthony Bennett was an undersized power forward at UNLV with the ability to score before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. It was an easy game of connect the dots even when Bennett was considered one of the top prospects, not the surprising call by the Cavaliers with the first choice.
“Oh, yeah,” Johnson, now a community liaison with the Knicks as a Basketball and Business Operations Representative. “A lot of similarities. He can play. He can play his butt off.”
But as for an actual comparison of games separated by the decades?
“He’s more about shooting that rock,” Johnson said. “He can really stroke it. I was more of a down low, inside, post guy.”
Bennett began hearing the connection almost from the moment he began playing for UNLV last season. To him, he said in June, the sight lines were “accurate. There’s a lot of things I actually do that he did all right and there’s stuff that he did perfect that I cannot. It’s mix and match. I’ve heard people say I’m like a more-athletic Zach Randolph. I’ve heard that because he’s versatile and can go inside and out. I also heard Carmelo (Anthony). He’s so versatile. He can shoot, he has post moves.”
As of last week, the two had never met. Bennett hopes it eventually happens and in the meantime tried to learn more about LJ, a starring run in college and the 10-year career in Charlotte and New York that followed. Bennett picked the right game to pull first from YouTube.
UNLV-Duke, April 2, 1990. The national-championship game.
Johnson had 22 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes in the 103-73 victory that lives on as a historic tournament moment.
“It was crazy,” Bennett said in June.
The story was relayed to Johnson during summer league in Las Vegas, in the gym adjacent to where both rose to national prominence in Thomas & Mack Center. He smiled.
“Absolutely,” LJ responded. “I never get tired of looking at that one.”