Cleanthony Early’s performances in the NCAA Tournament are earning him a chance to play high-profile summer basketball.
He is considering invitations from the Nike Skills Academy, hosted by NBA star Kevin Durant, and from USA Basketball to try out for the World University Games.
“Two great opportunities,” Early said. “I’ve got to weigh the options.”
Early is leaning toward the Durant option, because it requires less time away from summer classes. While the idea of traveling to Russia in July for the World University Games is appealing, the disruption to his academics is not. Tryouts for the 12-man team are June 24-July 1 in Colorado Springs. The games are played July 7-16 in Kazan.
“I would have to switch my major,” he said. “I would have to take all my classes online. With school, (the Nike camp) is less of an issue.”
The Nike Skills Academy for is June 28-30 in Washington, D.C. Durant works with college forwards while Deron Williams (guards) and Amare Stoudemire (big men) lend their names to similar camps. In July, the top players from those camps are invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael participated last summer.
Early’s professional potential moved in and out of focus during the season. His games against Iowa (25 points, nine rebounds) and Southern Illinois (39 points) made the NBA look realistic. Losses at Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, in which fouls and poor shooting plagued him, showed he had work to do.
Then came the NCAA Tournament, and Early seized the moment to lock himself into the NBA picture. His double-double (24 points, 10 rebounds) in the national semifinal loss to Louisville made sure of that. Any scout who watched him soar for offensive rebounds to keep the Shockers in the game had to be intrigued by Early’s athletic ability and aggressiveness.
Predictably, Early heard from agents who wanted him to consider leaving school and applying for the NBA Draft. He decided another year of work at WSU offered the best return on his potential. Early needs to improve his ball-handling to add more driving to his game. Better shot selection could improve his 31.8-percent shooting from behind the arc. He needs to play better defense, avoiding silly fouls and mental lapses.
“Of course you think about it, but you’ve just got to ultimately make a decision on whatever you think is best for you,” he said.
The roster also includes Kansas State’s Thomas Gipson and Jevon Thomas, Baylor’s Brady Heslip and Gonzaga’s Drew Barham.
Coleby is a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette who will be a senior at WSU. He practiced with the Shockers last season. At Louisiana-Lafayette, he started 30 games and averaged 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 2011-12.
On the defense — Zach Brown exited Texas for South Kent (Conn.) School to play better competition. The first thing he learned is that most players in prep schools can score.
“It wasn’t until South Kent that I started enjoying defense,” Brown said. “Up here, people are able to shoot it and really make plays. Knowing that you’re locking somebody up and playing tougher than them is a good feeling.”
Brown, a 6-foot-7 junior forward from Houston, orally committed to Wichita State recently. He plans to sign in November and will be freshman for the 2014-15 season. He attended Klein Collins High in Spring, Texas before transferring.
Brown appears to be a versatile player who can help the Shockers in the lane and on the perimeter. He wants to expand his shooting range to round out his scoring. He considers himself a slasher who is good at getting to the rim and drawing fouls.
“That gets me a lot of points,” he said. “I shoot about 10 free throws a game. I can shoot the ball, but it’s about my consistency so people can’t play off me. I want to be a threat on the court 24-7.”
Brown’s recent play with his AAU team attracted attention from some heavyweights, such as Kansas, Kansas State and Texas, he said. He liked WSU because Shockers coaches started recruiting him more than a year ago. With that decision behind him, he can focus on winning games and not playing to impress coaches.
“It’s a relief to have it over with,” he said.
Brown’s commitment gives WSU an early start on recruiting, leaving coaches to focus on adding big men to supplement its storehouse of wings and guards.
Looking for a sixth — Creighton’s departure for the Big East presents a problem for Missouri Valley Conference men’s tennis.
The MVC needs six teams to retain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Without Creighton, it has five. New member Loyola does not play tennis.
The MVC has two years to locate another men’s tennis team before the NCAA takes away the automatic qualifier. That gives the MVC time to add an affiliate member, as baseball will do with Dallas Baptist.
“We want to be proactive and find a school that could be an affiliate,” WSU coach Brad Louderback said.
The MVC will have seven women’s teams. Northern Iowa plays women’s tennis only.
Golf for scholarships — The 4th Annual Al Littleton Memorial Golf Tournament is June 15 at Braeburn Golf Course.
Money raised goes to the Donna and Al Littleton Golf Scholarship at WSU. Fee for the best-ball tournament is $60 per person.
Littleton coached WSU from 1973-82 and 1989-95 and his teams made four NCAA appearances. For more information, call 316-640-2540.