Final Four: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State look to make history
Cleanthony Early has played a key role in Wichita State’s Cinderella run, but the Middletown native’s life hasn’t always been a fairy tale.
In July 2010, Early’s older brother, Jamel Glover, drowned while swimming in Schoharie Creek in upstate Charleston. At the time, Early, who starred at Pine Bush High School, was being recruited by junior colleges after he spent a year at a North Carolina prep school. Believing his family needed him around during the hard times, he settled for playing at Sullivan County Community College, which competed at the lowest level of junior college basketball.
The big-time college coaches, however, eventually found Early, who was named junior college Division III Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. He was recruited by Georgetown, Alabama and Baylor, among others, but he elected to attend Wichita State, a decision that strangely enough might have been influenced by Tropical Storm Irene.
The August 2011 storm hit New York while Early was visiting the Kansas campus on a recruiting trip. The school needed to get permission from the NCAA to keep Early there over the 48-hour limit because he could not fly home. As a result, he got more time to acquaint himself with the coaches, players and city.
This season – his first with the Shockers – Early, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, leads the team with an average of 13.7 points per game and is second with 5.3 rebounds per game. He scored 21 points in Wichita State’s NCAA Tournament-opening win over Pittsburgh and has pulled down seven rebounds in each of the Shockers’ four tournament victories.
Early, however, suffered a scary-looking ankle injury in the Elite Eight against Ohio State. But he returned later in the game.
Ninth-seeded Wichita State is trying to become the lowest-seeded team ever to win a national championship. The Shockers will play Louisville in the Final Four at 6:09 p.m. Saturday in Atlanta.
Early’s steep ascension into the national spotlight is not lost on him.
“Last year, we were watching this," Early told The Wichita Eagle after the Ohio State win. “I was playing D-III juco, watching it on TV. Just watching it. Now I’m looking at a hat that says ‘Final Four Atlanta 2013’ with my team on it. It’s crazy."