Basketball phenom Anthony Bennett, the only Canadian ever drafted first-overall to the NBA, had some words of advice for youth in the Toronto neighbourhood where he grew up: work hard and stay in school and anything is possible.

The Brampton native met with students at the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club on Thursday afternoon – the same club where he spent time as a boy.

"The most important thing is to stay in school, make sure you finish school, that's all I can really say," Bennett told students. "If you guys have a dream you can accomplish it because I came from just down the street, I'm just like you guys. It's a tough neighbourhood and now I made it, everything is here."

A freshman at UNLV, Bennett was selected first overall in the June 27 NBA draft, snapped up by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 20-year-old Brampton, Ont. native made history by becoming the first Canadian ever drafted in the top spot, joining the ranks of other top-picked basketball legends that includes Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James and Magic Johnson.

Bennett said regardless of circumstances, young people can be a success if they focus and work hard, no matter what their goals are.

"I remember when I was in your spot, I used to go to that school right there, Yorkwoods (Public School), and come over here to the Boys and Girls Club, so this is great. It's a great feeling to come back and see all you guys, you guys are doing well, and see my old friends," Bennett said.

Students like Ronelle Barnett took his inspiring message to heart.

β€œHe’s teaching us to follow our dreams and be whatever we want to be and accomplish all our goals,” said Barnett, who wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.

Bennett surpasses the previous highest Canadian draft pick Tristan Thompson, also of Brampton, who was selected fourth overall in 2011. Thompson also went to the Cavs, meaning the pair will be teammates this season.

A star on Canada's junior national team, and the Mountain West Conference player of the year, Bennett was expected to be highly sought after. However, there was little expectation leading up to the draft that he would go first. In fact, many observers expected Bennett to enter the draft next year.

He had rotator cuff surgery in May, but said he was doing fine and didn't expect it to affect his draft selection.

Bennett leads a pack of up-and-coming Canadian basketball stars invading the NBA.

Another Canadian, Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops, B.C., was taken No. 13 by the Boston Celtics.

Vaughan, Ont. native Andrew Wiggins, still a teenager, is going to the Kansas City Jayhawks next season and is expected to be in the running for the 2014 first overall NBA draft pick spot.