By Rob Potter
LOCH SHELDRAKE SUNY Sullivan’s Cleanthony Early recently earned two prestigious awards to complete his 2011-2012 season and an excellent junior college basketball career.
For the second consecutive year, Early was named the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III Player of the Year. He was also honored as the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Junior College Player of the Year.
The awards cap off an impressive list of honors collected by Early during his two years as a Sullivan General. With his last two years of eligibility, he will play for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Wichita State University Shockers.
Naturally, everyone in the SUNY Sullivan men’s basketball program is very happy for Early.
“It was kind of a surprise that Cle won the NJCAA Division III Player of the Year award again this year,” Coach Kevin DeVantier said. “Cle is obviously a great player, but there were at least five or six very talented players around the country who could have won the award.”
Early winning the award for two consecutive years may be unprecedented.
“We know this is the first time a Sullivan player has won the award two years in a row,” DeVantier commented. “But we are doing some research of national records to see if Cle is the first player overall to win in back to back seasons.”
As surprising as it was for Early, who is SUNY Sullivan’s top career scorer with 1,452 points, to win the NJCAA Div. III Player of the Year award again, it was more of a surprise he was chosen as the NABC Junior College Player of the Year.
“Cle receiving the NABC award was more of a shock,” DeVantier said. “It includes about 450 junior colleges across the country. And that includes Division I, II, III, scholarship schools and non-scholarship schools. For Cle to win the award while playing for a non-scholarship school like ours is just great.”
DeVantier noted a couple of reasons he believes Early received the two awards.
“First is the fact that Cle is such a great player that people notice him,” DeVantier explained. “Secondly, Cle helps make his teammates better. He and his fellow sophomores have worked very hard to maintain our status as one of the top five NJCAA Division III programs in the country. The past two seasons, our sophomores have led us to a 55-1 record in Region XV games and a 59-8 overall record.”
Early played for Pine Bush High School before being recruited by SUNY Sullivan. The 6-foot, 8-inch forward has been an invaluable team leader for the Generals since his first day on campus.
Early’s freshman season made national recruiters sit up and take notice. He immediately set himself on pace to post record-breaking stats at SUNY Sullivan, and not only maintained that performance but improved upon it during the year.
By season’s end, Early’s play had earned him NJCAA Division III Player of the Year, Mid-Hudson Conference Player of the Year and NJCAA Region XV Player of the Year honors. He was selected to the All-Tournament teams for Region XV, Mid-Hudson Conference and the NJCAA Division III National Tournament. He was chosen as the National Player of the Week three times along the way, and was named the New York State JUCO Player of the Year, the NJCAA Player of the Year, and was selected as an NJCAA First Team All-American.
Early continued to excel this season. After scoring his 1,000th collegiate point on Dec. 6, 2011, he went on to score over 450 more points in an incredible season. Along with the Division III and NABC honors, Early was also named the Mid-Hudson Conference Player of the Year and Region XV Player of the Year. He was selected to the Region XV All-Tournament Team. He was also named the New York State JUCO Player of the Year and selected as an NJCAA First Team All-American both for the second time.
Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Early was recruited by several NCAA Division I programs including San Diego State, Baylor, Alabama and Washington State. He chose to sign with the Shockers of Wichita State University. He will attend the school on full athletic scholarship this fall.
In addition to ending his career as SUNY Sullivan’s scoring leader, Early collected 697 rebounds and blocked 208 shots in his two seasons as a General.
Early will graduate from SUNY Sullivan later this month with an associate’s degree in Sports Management.