Wichita State Shockers

January 12, 2013

Early’s rise at WSU comes far away from home

Sandra Glover will forever mourn, as does a mother who loses a son.

Sandra Glover will forever mourn, as does a mother who loses a son.

It’s been 2½ years since the eldest of her two boys, Jamel Glover, drowned in Schoharie Creek, near Charleston, N.Y. He had been swimming with friends and slipped as he tried to get out of the water, according to reports. As others helped, Glover, 32, panicked and pulled them under as well. He had a wife, two kids and a third on the way.

“Oh, wow, I have my moments,’’ Sandra Glover said. “I have my days.’’

And when she does, Glover remembers the wise words spoken to her by her youngest son, Cleanthony Early, Wichita State’s junior scoring machine who scored 39 points, the most by a Shocker in 27 years, last week against Southern Illinois.

“He told me, ‘Mom, God does things for a reason,’ ” Glover said. “He said we don’t know why, but things happen for a reason. I asked him what the reason could be and Cleanthony said, ‘Mom, we don’t know and we may never know.’ He said God doesn’t make mistakes.’’

Jamel Glover was more than a big brother to Early, he was a father figure. He first put a basketball in Early’s hands and encouraged Early to dribble it.

“Cleanthony is quiet, he internalizes,’’ Sandra Glover said. “He holds it in for a long time, but at Jamel’s service he broke down. He couldn’t take it so he had to leave.’’

But Early didn’t check out. He had just finished a year at Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina, unable to attend a Division I school out of Pine Bush (N.Y.) High because of poor grades.

That year at Mount Zion changed him, his mother said. He had never been a troublemaker, but he also lacked direction.

“He came back from Mount Zion a different person,’’ Sandra Glover said. “He grew up in the church with me and his grandmother.’’

It wasn’t until that year at Mount Zion, though, that spirituality spilled into Early’s being. The school’s religious instruction got his attention and it’s because of that, he believes, that he was able to be a rock for his mother in the confusion of such tragedy.

“My parents were separated when I was young, so I followed my brother around all the time,’’ Early said. “But after he was gone, it was like I became the protector of the family.’’

Instead of going far off to college to play college basketball, Early decided to stay close to home and played two seasons at Sullivan Community College in Middletown, N.Y. There are three junior college divisions and Sullivan is Division III, low on the pecking order. College recruiters don’t make a path to places like Sullivan.

But Early made the best of a difficult situation. He wanted to be close to his mom during such a traumatic time while also giving basketball the attention it deserved so that he could eventually earn a Division I scholarship. Mission accomplished in both areas: Early was a two-time Division III player of the year at Sullivan and finally narrowed his dozens of college choices to San Diego State, Baylor, Alabama, Washington State and Wichita State.

Wherever he was going, he would be far away from home. He thought he was ready.

His mother wasn’t.

“I didn’t want to let Cleanthony out of my sight,’’ Glover said. “I was doing so much praying, asking the Lord not to let my baby get too far away.’’

Early, though, knew Wichita State was the place for him. He was recruited heavily by Shocker assistant Greg Heier, who sold Anthony on what the Shockers were and what they were becoming.

Early arrived with a reputation as a scorer. He averaged 20 points as a senior at Pine Bush, 24 at Mount Zion, 20.4 as a freshman at Sullivan and 24.2 as a sophomore.

After losing five seniors from last season’s Missouri Valley Conference championship and NCAA Tournament team, the Shockers badly needed his points. Turns out, Early has shown himself to be – when he can avoid foul trouble and stay on the floor for extended minutes – a fine all-around player, more than just a scorer.

“How good can he be?’’ Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall contemplated. “I don’t know that I can determine his ceiling. He can certainly continue to improve and he’s pretty good right now.’’

Early has reached double figures in 13 of the Shockers’ 16 games. But his 39-point explosion against Southern Illinois took his a relatively calm season and transformed it into Hurricane Cle.

“I woke up the next morning to quite a few more text messages and quite a few more notifications on Facebook and Twitter,’’ Early said. “There are the ones you know who have always been with you and I’m thankful for the new supporters.’’

If Early has fought anything so far during his Division I career, it’s been his penchant to foul too much. He played 17 minutes during the Shockers’ only loss, a road defeat at Tennessee in December. In that game, Early scored two points, both on free throws.

He had a 2-for-13 shooting game against Southern Mississippi at Intrust Bank Arena, but since then Early has made 31 of 50 shots and 13 of 23 three pointers in four games.

“There has definitely been an adjustment to playing at this level,’’ Early said. “There’s a much higher level of defense that impacts the game.’’

Marshall’s demands, too, have been a new experience. The WSU coach loves players who can score, sure, but he won’t give a player that chance unless he proves himself on the defensive end. That’s where Early has made the most progress, and where he needs to continue to get better.

“Coach Marshall is demanding, but a lot of coaches are demanding,’’ Early said. “He knows how to win. He asks things out of guys that they’ve never done before.’’

Early, who loves to read – another passion he picked up during his time at Mount Zion – isn’t a normal college Twitter enthusiast. His tweets are often philosophical and represent his deep religious faith. He’s as much fun as the next guy, those who know him say, but he has a serious undertone, molded from his life experiences.

His father, Cleveanthony, is battling lung cancer and diabetes. They have had a fractured relationship, one of the reasons why Cleanthony leaned so heavily on his brother.

Basketball has been an outlet for Early. He’s naturally gifted and now willing to put in the hard work that will help him discover how good he can be.

“I believe I can go all the way, whatever level I’m on,’’ Early said. “I’m going to always work and do what I need to do to get to where I need to be. I thank God every single day that I’m not where I was, but also not where I want to be.’’

Marshall said he coached a couple of players with NBA ability at Winthrop, and that three of the Shocker seniors last season – Garrett Stutz, Joe Ragland and Toure Murry – were close.

Early, though, looks like he could be on a different level.

“He can score in a lot of ways,’’ Marshall said. “I told him after the Bradley game (24 points) that what I love about you is how good you are right now, but also how much better you can be. It’s exciting for me and it’s exciting for him. He was like a wild colt when he came to us. You don’t want to break that spirit, but you want to get him running in the right direction.’’

It will be interesting to see how Early follows up his huge game against SIU on Sunday at Evansville. The Shockers, with three starters still out with injuries, need everything Early can give them.

Back in New York, his mother will be tuned in. She watches as many games as she can and Marshall sends video of the ones she misses.

“It seems like Cleanthony is a million miles away,’’ said Glover, who works in New York as an office manager.

Grief still washes over her at times. But Glover knew she couldn’t keep her youngest son from spreading his wings. She encouraged him to follow basketball wherever it took him.

“That’s my queen,’’ Early said of his mother. “I love her and I miss her every day.’’

They talk every day, sometimes about the good times and sometimes about the bad. Glover will finally get to come to a game at Koch Arena in February, something she’s counting the days for.

“When we talk on the phone, it’s usually not about the game last night,’’ Early said. “We don’t ever really get into the details of that. There’s much more to talk about with my mom.’’

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