By Rob Potter
LOCH SHELDRAKE They’re called the Wichita State Shockers, but there was little surprise that’s where SUNY Sullivan star basketball player Cleanthony Early would be playing college basketball next season. After being recruited by several Division 1 schools throughout the spring and summer, Early had decided in late August he was going to commit to Wichita State on a full athletic scholarship.
He made it official Wednesday, signing a National Letter of Intent to play for the Shockers during a brief ceremony in SUNY Sullivan’s Paul Gerry Fieldhouse attended by his coaches and family members. Early, who is a 20-year-old sophomore forward at SUNY Sullivan, will have two seasons of eligibility at Wichita State.
“Cleanthony Early at 6-foot-8 is the most complete offensive player I have recruited in my tenure at Wichita State,” fifth-year head coach Coach Gregg Marshall said. “He can score the ball any way you’d like him to, in transition, off the glass, in the post, on the perimeter and by putting it on the deck. While continuing to refine his game under the tutelage of Coach Kevin DeVantier at Sullivan Community College, I think Cleanthony is in store for a great year. Cleanthony is one of the most highly touted junior college players in the country.”
Wichita State is coming off a 29-8 season in 2010-2011 in which the team won the NIT Championship.
Named the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III Player of the Year for the 2010-2011 season after averaging 20.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, Early was recruited by several NCAA D-I schools in addition to Wichita State, including Alabama, Baylor, Missouri, San Diego State and Washington State.
“It just felt like it was the right place,” Early said of his official visit to Wichita State. “San Diego State was nice and the beach was right there. But I just felt that everyone at Wichita State is going to help me work hard and get better.”
Because of Hurricane Irene, Early stayed at Wichita State for nearly a week instead of the planned 48 hours. That extra time made him even more sure in his decision to join the Shockers’ hoops program.
Early’s mother, Sandra Glover of Middletown, was surprised by how quickly the recruiting process went.
“It was quite shocking when I found out he made his decision so soon,” Glover said. “I was driving home from working in New York City when Cleanthony sent me a text message saying he made a verbal commitment to attend Wichita State. I pulled over and sent him a text asking him if he was sure about it. He sent a text saying that he was sure about his decision.
“I’m very happy for him,” she added.
Glover’s cousin, Vanessa Duvoll of Pine Bush and her husband Dwight Duvoll, were among those on hand to see Early sign his National Letter of Intent.
“We’re all very happy for him,” Vanessa Duvoll commented. “He really deserves it. He has worked very hard for this.”
When Early signed his National Letter of Intent, he was sitting between his mother and Bobby Rahn, who is the coach of the B.C. Eagles AAU travel basketball team based in Newburgh. Early has played for the B.C. Eagles for the past two years in the spring and summer. Two of Early’s current SUNY Sullivan teammates, Marcus Henderson and Marvin Jean, also played for the B.C. Eagles. Rahn noted that former Generals Terry Coleman and Jordan Thorpe also played for the team.
“Coach [Kevin] DeVantier and everyone here at Sullivan has done a good job of working with Cleanthony,” Rahn said. “Everyone has worked very hard to make Cleanthony a D-I player.”
Rahn noted that Early has been improving his game from his days at Pine Bush High School, to spending a year on the basketball team at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C. and now playing a second year at SUNY Sullivan.
“I am very excited for him,” Rahn said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for Cleanthony and I’m sure he will make the most of it.”
Early, who is a Sports Management major at SUNY Sullivan, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Tracy McGrady, who played at Mount Zion and is now in the NBA.
“My goal is to get to the NBA,” Early said.
But Early, who played very well against other top collegiate players at the Mullens Camp in St. Louis this summer, knows that it will take a great deal of work to become a professional basketball player.
“I just want to get better,” said the 2009 Pine Bush graduate.
DeVantier is pleased that Early has the opportunity to play at Wichita State.
“He is one of the best players in Sullivan program history,” DeVantier said. “He really means a lot to our team.”
DeVantier noted that there is one area of Early’s game where he can improve.
“He has to work on using his left hand to drive with the basketball,” DeVantier explained. “The best players can use both hands when driving to the basket.”
The third-year SUNY Sullivan coach noted that Early also needs to get bigger.
“Right now, Cleanthony is 6-8 and 218 pounds,” DeVantier said. “Our goal is to get him up to 230 pounds. We did some research and found that 6-8 and 230 pounds is the ideal height and weight for an NBA player.”
In addition to praising his work ethic, DeVantier lauded Early’s team-first attitude.
“I think he knows how much we depend on him, but he’s very unselfish,” DeVantier said. “He always wants to put the team first.”
Early is one of seven sophomores on the Generals’ roster who led the team to a third place finish at last year’s NJCAA National Championship Tournament. They want to improve upon that this coming March.
“I want to help bring another national championship to Sullivan before I leave,” Early said.
Of course, Early is also looking forward to suiting up with the Wichita State Shockers for the 2012-2013 hoops season.
“I feel like I have worked very hard for this,” he said. “I just want to continue doing everything I can to be a better player and do well at the next level. I’m excited, I’m ready.”