Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast in late August, stranding one important visitor in Wichita for two extra days.
Cleanthony Early didn't mind. The delay gave him more time to check out Wichita and evaluate Wichita State's basketball program. On Wednesday, he signed a letter of intent with WSU. Early is a 6-foot-8 forward from Sullivan (N.Y.) Community College.
NCAA rules limit visits to 48 hours. The weather stopped the clock and Early enjoyed his extended look at Wichita and WSU.
"Any school can make it seem like the best place in the world for (48 hours)," he said. "It was kind of crazy, staying out there a couple extra days. You got to see people and get a feel for people. There was more of a bond there."
The hurricane cancelled flights on Early's departure day. The next day, he went to the airport and couldn't get on a flight.
"We could not get him on a flight that day or the next day," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "A 48-hour visit turned into almost 90 hours. He developed a special relationship with our team, our staff."
Associate athletic director Korey Torgerson, who handles compliance, said a similar situation kept a women's basketball recruit from Houston in town for an extended period. When something like that happens, WSU is required to file a report with the Missouri Valley Conference. Beyond that, normal rules for an official visit apply.
Early, the NJCAA Division III Player of the Year in 2011, chose WSU over several schools from higher-profile conferences. San Diego State, Alabama, Baylor and Washington State all made strong pitches. Early didn't make his decision based on ESPN appearances or conference reputation.
WSU entered the race for his talents before Early's reputation grew following a camp in St. Louis. WSU assistant Greg Heiar started conversations before many schools.
"There was more consistency from WSU," Early said. "Even before the camp, Wichita was on me with an offer on the table."
After the camp, Early's options changed significantly.
"When there's competition, I have to step up," he said. "You prepare so hard for those days, you woke up at 7 for a workout. Here's your chance to show it in front of people who were probably doing the same thing."
Good seats downtown — WSU athletic director Eric Sexton wants fans to think of tickets to the Intrust Bank Arena men's basketball game as an investment.
It's not just about that Nov. 25 game with Alabama-Birmingham. It's about future scheduling opportunities.
Ticket sales are around the 5,000 mark, both Sexton and promoter Zach Franz said last week. It's too early to know if that is a disappointment, but that pace is something of a concern at WSU.
Sexton would like to see a crowd similar to the 14,112 that watched the Tulsa game at Intrust last season. WSU budgeted $20-$30,000 to promote the game and those efforts are starting. Russ Potts Promotions of Winchester, Va., is organizing the game and selling tickets. Unlike the Tulsa game, it is not a part of the WSU season-ticket package.
UAB is the defending Conference USA champion and a frequent NCAA Tournament team. Sexton wants to use Intrust, and WSU's relationship with the promoter, to lure big-name opponents to Wichita.
"That is the type of opponent we're trying to play," he said. "They've put together numerous games like this and their ability to bring in this caliber of institution has been proven."
Franz, senior vice president at Russ Potts, isn't discouraged. He noticed more than 9,000 fans at WSU's exhibition game. He expects tickets to move more quickly with the season starting. A good run by WSU in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this week will help.
"Coach Marshall is going to want to see a full house," Franz said. "Pretty soon, a basketball mindset is going to take over."
Tickets range from $17 to $152. They can be purchase through Select-A-Seat at (316) 755-7328 and at intrustbankarena.com.