It is OK to watch Kevin Durant on TV and be in awe of his talents. It is not OK to worship Durant when on the same court.
Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early understands that, so he made himself put away any star-struck feelings during Durant’s Nike Skills Academy in late June in Washington D.C. Early played with and against Durant, Oklahoma City’s superstar and NBA scoring leader. That discipline is especially important because Early knows his talents offer him a chance to play against Durant for real in the future.
“It was cool, but it’s basketball so it’s something you have to prepare to go against,” Early said. “You just try to take it and absorb the environment and how he acts and how he carries himself.”
Early, a 6-foot-8 senior, guarded Durant. Early tried to play physical. It went as expected.
“I got some buckets put on my head,” he said.
Dozens of NBA defenders can relate.
“I wasn’t afraid,” Early said. “He’s supposed to score. I scored, too. It kind of fired me up to be there and play against him.”
Durant’s camp is an invitation-only affair for the nation’s top high school and college forwards. Early joined players such as Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Memphis’ Geron Johnson and Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III.
Finest Magazine reporter Cardell Dudley wrote that he considered Early the unofficial MVP of the weekend.
“Early displayed a unique versatility that is rare in players,” he wrote. “He is capable of playing every position from point guard to small forward and even power forward in some stretches. He is also a good solid defender where he uses his quick feet and (6-foot, 9-inch) wingspan to bother opponents.”
The top players from the Durant camp joined guards and posts for LeBron James’ camp in Las Vegas in early July. Early declined his spot because of a sore left shoulder and a sprained left ankle. After a long season with the Shockers, he wanted time to heal and get treatment with the WSU trainers.
The injuries aren’t serious. Last week, Early lifted weights — wearing his aqua KD socks — and played pickup games.
“I’m fine,” he said. “It will be nice to wake up and not be sore in certain spots.”
Butler has heard from a few former Shockers, including pitcher Braden Looper. Connecting with the Shockers of old (and not-so-old) is important to Butler. If there are hard feelings or hesitancy after the firing of coach Gene Stephenson, he wants to repair those relationships. The presence of pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, who was with Stephenson for 35 of 36 seasons, should help.
“It’s so important, because they’ve built this,” Butler said. “They built this wonderful facility. We really want to keep those guys involved in the program.”
Eck Stadium is a constant reminder to Butler of the many contributions, both physical and financial, made by former Shockers over the years.
“I still walk around looking at all the banners of the former greats,” he said. “Once we kind of settle down with recruiting, I’m going to concentrate on the alumni, getting out and speaking, mainly getting our former great players, All-Americans and major leaguers, on board to keep going the same direction that (Stephenson) had it and where the program’s been for years.”
Brown, a 6-foot-7 forward at South Kent (Conn.) School, is allowed to spend July with the Shockers because he graduated from prep school last spring. He will return to South Kent for the 2013-14 school year before joining WSU as a freshman for 2014-15 season. Because he has not signed a letter, WSU coaches are not allowed to comment on Brown.
Brown, from Houston, gave WSU an oral commitment in early May. He averaged around 13 points and seven rebound for South Kent.