If Kevin Durant is up for a game of HORSE, or something more challenging, so is Cleanthony Early.
“I’ll play him one-on-one, definitely,” Early said. “I would definitely want to do that.”
Who wouldn’t? Early, Wichita State’s senior forward, leaves Friday for Durant’s Nike Skills Academy in Washington, D.C. His goal is to improve his skills and boost his reputation with NBA scouts.
The top players from this weekend’s Durant camp are invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy in July in Las Vegas. Early’s junior season at WSU, helped by a 24-point, 10-rebound game in the Final Four, thrust him into NBA view.
“I want him to show his skills and perform at a high level, so that he can improve his draft stock and visibility going into this year,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “This is about him being a more well-known and highly sought-after player a year from now.”
Rosters for the Durant camp will be announced Friday. Early said Tyler Harris of Providence will attend and Creighton’s Doug McDermott is considering participating for a second year. Media reports list Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III as another college invitee. The players will work out once Friday and twice on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m there for my teammates and it’s a way to get Wichita State out there, just by having a representative,” Early said.
Early (6-foot-8) averaged 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds last season, shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from three-point range. Much like McDermott after his sophomore season, Early wants to round out his offensive game by improving his dribbling and ability to drive and score. Defense is another area where increased concentration and practice can help.
“With defense, it’s staying low and getting stronger in my legs to where I’m comfortable in certain positions for a long period of time,” he said. “It’s all about endurance and being used to it and doing it like it’s second nature.”
Early chose the Nike camp over a chance to try out in Colorado Springs for the World University Games. He decided eight days of tryouts, plus a trip to Russia in July, didn’t mesh with his goals for the Shockers. The time commitment for the Nike camps is significantly less.
“I didn’t think it would be a good fit for me to go all the way out there and miss almost a month of trying to get together with the new guys and build that chemistry,” he said. “I know how important that is to spend that quality time with the guys.”