Most freshmen walking the UNLV campus want to blend in with the crowd, bounce from class to class and stay on schedule. Anthony Bennett is unlike his classmates.
At 6 feet 8 inches and 240 pounds, it's natural that he stands out.
But Bennett's physical attributes are matched by his intellectual maturity. He left Ontario, Canada, two years ago so he could be ahead of schedule now. He's not homesick or without friends. He's past the awkward stage of adjusting to college life.
He's off and running and ahead of his class, thanks to his experiences at Findlay Prep, where he found a comfort zone and made Las Vegas his new home.
"Being out here for two years, away from family and away from friends, just lets me focus on basketball and what I need to do in school," he said. "So I feel like I'm already a step ahead of these freshmen."
When the Rebels open practice at 5 p.m. today at the Mendenhall Center, second-year coach Dave Rice puts a team on the floor that ranks among the nation's top 20, if not the top 10. In the view of many, Bennett was the biggest piece needed to complete the puzzle.
On the day in early May when he committed to UNLV, expectations for the Rebels were elevated to a level not seen in 20 years. On a team led by senior guard Anthony Marshall and junior forward Mike Moser, Bennett figures to be a powerful presence.
A rare McDonald's All-American to sign with UNLV, Bennett was ranked by ESPN.com and Rivals.com as the nation's No. 7 prospect in the class of 2012. That made him the Rebels' highest-ranked high school recruit since at least the 1980s.
"Maybe you would have to go back to the 1970s," Rice said. "I don't know for sure."
Rice does know he brought in a special player who can help change the program's national perception and status.
"Anthony's going to have an opportunity to step in and be a big factor on our team from Day One," Rice said. "He's a really talented guy, he's a great teammate and he has an extremely high basketball IQ. He has played on the big stage. He's a freshman, but he is more experienced because of his background."
Bennett, who helped Findlay Prep win the National High School Invitational title last season, was the nation's top unsigned senior when he selected UNLV over Kentucky, Florida and Oregon. His friendship with Khem Birch played a key role in the decision.
Birch, who transferred from Pittsburgh in January, is the other half of the Rebels' Canadian connection and also a former McDonald's All-American.
"Anthony knew Khem was having a good experience here, so that gave us more credibility," Rice said.
Bennett and Birch, a 6-9 center who becomes eligible in mid-December, also should give UNLV one of the nation's most feared front lines bolstered by the 6-8 Moser, 6-8 senior Quintrell Thomas and 6-11 junior Carlos Lopez.
"We're already strong as it is right now, but adding Khem is going to be incredible," Bennett said. "He can block shots and rebound, and he's a great post player. Every time I guard Moser, he has real good moves out on the wing and in the post, so I can learn a lot from him.
"Everybody on the team goes hard. I could go down the line and say everything that everybody does well, but I'm just going to put it this way - everybody on this team can play. Everybody is saying UNLV has a lot of hype, but I don't really pay attention to all that."
The Rebels are deeper and better built to execute Rice's run-and-gun system than they were last season, which ended with 26 wins and a first-round NCAA Tournament loss. Bennett, whom Rice calls "one of our better long-range shooters," can score inside and out.
"I like playing fast and putting up a lot of shots. I can do a little bit of everything," Bennett said. "The most important thing for me is winning as a team."
Moser flirted with entering the NBA Draft before returning for another year. Marshall, a three-year starter, is moving to point guard, and senior guard Justin Hawkins is as valuable as anyone on the roster due to his defense, leadership and versatility.
The freshman class signaled a recruiting coup for Rice, and not just because of Bennett. Katin Reinhardt, Savon Goodman, Demetris Morant and Daquan Cook all appear prepared to contribute this season. Morant, a 6-9 forward from Bishop Gorman High School, is Bennett's roommate.
Reinhardt, a 6-5 guard, was the highest-ranked recruit Rice had signed before Bennett.
"It's the first official practice, and I can't wait," Bennett said. "I just want to get things started."
■ NOTES - The Rebels have 15 players on the roster, including walk-ons Barry Cheaney, a returning sophomore guard, and Charles Rushman, a freshman guard from Milwaukee. Sophomore guard Bryce Dejean-Jones is out about four more weeks with two broken bones in his left hand. Junior forward Roscoe Smith will redshirt this season as a transfer from Connecticut. Jelan Kendrick, a 2011 McDonald's All-American who left the Mississippi program and is at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, is making an official visit to UNLV this weekend.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.