By THEO RABINOWITZ & ADAM ZAGORIA
NEW YORK — Playing in his first event since signing a Letter of Intent with UNLV on Tuesday, Anthony Bennett went off for 24 points and 10 rebounds at the IS8 Nike Spring Classic in Queens.
The 6-foot-8 Bennett threw down five dunks — several from three or four feet above the rim — as the New York Panthers beat the Playaz Sophomores, 72-44, to advance to the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Bennett went a perfect 7-for-7 from the line and also had two blocks.
“He was a man,” longtime New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski told SNY.tv. “He played terrific. He was clearly the best player there today.”
Exactly a week after selecting UNLV over Oregon, the Findlay Prep forward came to New York to play with the Panthers, who lost in last year’s final. IS8 is not an AAU event so there are no restrictions on signed college players competing.
“My [CIA Bounce] teammate Tyler Ennis told me to come out,” Bennett said. “It’s close to home [in Toronto] and I just finished school so I just wanted to come out here and ball.
“I heard this team [the Panthers] lost in the finals and they wanted me to come out and help them win it.”
Panthers coach Paul Ruddock is Ennis’s uncle and Ruddock also knows Bennett through the AAU ranks.
“He was a man amongst boys,” Ruddock told SNY.tv. “I told him during the game, ‘You’re settling by even shooting jumpers beause no one on that court can even guard you.”
Bennett will be on hand Sunday when the Panthers meet the Rens in the quarterfinals and he could turn up again should the Panthers advance to the semifinals on June 2.
Ruddock said both Ennis, a rising senior point guard at St. Benedict’s Prep, and fellow CIA bounce teammate Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 2014 prospect in North America, could also join the Panthers later on in the tournament.
Bennett reiterated that he chose UNLV because it’s now his local school since he attends high school in Las Vegas.
“I chose UNLV because of a great coaching staff,” he said. “I’ve been in that area for two years so it’s basically a home. My boy Khem Birch is there.”
After choosing UNLV over schools like Florida and Kentucky, Bennett was verbally abused on Twitter and the Internet, but said he’s not letting that bother him too much.
“Its cool,” he said. “I understand but at the same time I don’t pay attention to any of that. I just retweet the stuff. It is what it is and I just wanna play my game and just focus on that”
Miami-bound shooting guard Melvin Johnson added 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting for the Panthers…Memphis-bound forward Shaq Goodwin had 7 points and 7 rebounds for Team Nike in an 84-74 loss to New Heights…SMU-bound shooting guard Brian Bernardi had 26 points for New Heights in the win….Texas Tech-bound point guard Josh Gray and forward Wanah Bail both played for Team Nike.
IS8 QUARTERFINAL SCHEDULE
9 a.m — New Heights Seniors vs. Playaz Juniors
10:15 — Team Flight vs. Sports U
11:30 — QFive.com vs. Juice All-Stars
12:45 — Panthers Seniors vs. Rens Juniors