UNLV’s shooting star gone, and who can blame him?

Well, now it’s official: The big kid with the wide shoulders who supposedly had one foot out the door now has both feet out the door.

Anthony Bennett no longer is a Rebel, at least in terms of college basketball eligibility. He declared Monday — through tears — that he will turn pro, that he will take his talents to the NBA, and who can blame him?

OK, so UNLV fans with expectations of Final Four berths and national championships and commemorative issues of Sports Illustrated that come with a free hoodie probably will blame him. But these people mostly are delusional, and must not have watched the credibility flogging inflicted upon the Mountain West in the current edition of March Madness. Or any year’s March Madness.

As Jay Bilas tweeted after making a slipknot of his son’s bowtie: “Mountain West … thank you for playing. Since its formation, the Mountain West has received 38 bids, and has four Sweet 16 berths. Yikes.”

Yikes, indeed. This explains why Steve Alford now is coach at UCLA instead of New Mexico. It explains why if Anthony Bennett considered hanging around for his sophomore year of shooting baskets and going to class when it pleased him, he must have considered it for like 2.1 seconds, or the time it took Grant Hill to throw the ball the length of the court and for Christian Laettner to score against Kentucky.

It’s also about the length of time it took for Mike Moser to blow out his elbow and his NBA future at California on Dec. 9, and if you were watching the Louisville-Duke game Sunday … well, here’s hoping you have a short memory, because that was hideous.

So other than the delusional ones, and the ones who think playing defense in the NBA is important and Bennett could have benefited from another year in college to work on his, can we agree this was not a decision fraught with a high degree of difficulty?

This was not a forward 2½ somersault with three twists in the pike position off the 3-meter springboard. This was Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue heading to El Paso, without the great big hassle. This was take the money and run, and hopefully put some of it in an IRA, and maybe get to know the E*TRADE baby.

So how to remember Anthony Bennett?

I suppose I will remember him as a quasar, a literal shooting star upon which many wishes were made.

Quasars are these extragalactic objects that emit tremendous amounts of light and energy. So Bennett already is halfway there. And a quasar’s energy is thought to involve a supermassive black hole, so maybe that’s where his defense went against Cal in the Big Dance, when that walk-on dude kept dunking on him.

But name a freshman who plays great defense. Before you say Boeheim’s guys, only one, DaJuan Coleman, is a freshman who started at least half the time.

Here’s the thing about five-star basketball recruits: They don’t sign with midmajor schools to play defense. They sign to score the basketball, as Clark Kellogg says on CBS, or at least to shoot the basketball.

Anthony Bennett was a five-star recruit who probably would have gotten better on defense; Katin Reinhardt was a four-star recruit who might not.

But perhaps Reinhardt will become the Rebels’ Jimmer Fredette, as advertised; perhaps some 2½-star recruit with a hard nose can become their Pierce Hornung. There’s gotta be a 6-foot-7 Anthony Marshall out there somewhere who can help this team get past the first round.

In that case, Anthony Bennett’s defection, if you want to call it that, might even turn out for the best for both sides.

I know it’s good for his side.

If this wasn’t a difficult choice, it was an emotional one when the time came to announce it. The big kid with the wide shoulders sniffed and dabbed at tears from the beginning of the news conference to the end.

Several teammates were there to bear witness to the inevitable. So was a little guy who kept snapping pictures on his cellphone. Randy Osei called himself Anthony Bennett’s “right-hand man.” They were teammates with CIA Bounce in their native Toronto, have known each other since they chucked basketballs at rims with two hands, because they couldn’t get it there with one.

Though Bennett nearly did, because he was bigger and stronger.

“That’s my guy. I’m happy for him,” Osei said, and Dave Rice, the Rebels’ coach, said he was happy for Bennett, too, because the Rebels hadn’t had a guy drafted in the first round since 2003.

Rice is such a sincere guy one almost believes him.

For me, the lasting images of Bennett will be of him pulling out the Kleenex on April Fools’ Day, and that stretch at the beginning of the Mountain West championship game when he scored UNLV’s first 11 points against New Mexico, and the way he was sort of laughing when he backpedaled on defense as if to say “Wow, am I on fire or what?”

For someone who supposedly had one foot out the door, the big kid with the wide shoulders was pretty darn good, if only for a little while.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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