Wichita State Shockers

Former Shocker Cleanthony Early robbed, shot in New York (+video)

Police investigate the scene where New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot and robbed at gunpoint early Wednesday morning while in a taxi, leaving a club in Queens.
Police investigate the scene where New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot and robbed at gunpoint early Wednesday morning while in a taxi, leaving a club in Queens. New York Daily News

Former Wichita State basketball star Cleanthony Early begins most of his days by telling his 48,000 Twitter followers, “Thank God for today.”

Wednesday, it took him until the evening to let them know he was doing OK after being shot during an early morning robbery in New York.

Early, 24, a second-year forward for the NBA’s New York Knicks, was with his girlfriend when their Uber ride was stopped by masked assailants in three cars after leaving a Queens strip club at about 4:30 a.m. Early was shot in the knee.

At about 5:20 p.m. CST Wednesday, Early wrote on Twitter: “Thank you all for your Thoughts and Prayer I appreciate you all! Shout out to you beautiful souls for caring, God works in Mysterious way!”

Yahoo.com reported that MRI and X-rays determined Early did not need surgery and the bullet did not cause any structural damage to his right knee. The bullet, league sources told Yahoo.com, exited the leg. It’s the same knee that underwent arthroscopic surgery in 2014.

His recovery is expected to take two to three months. The NBA regular season ends in mid-April.

We’re glad he’s alive and hopefully he’s doing well.

Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, an Early teammate for two seasons

The robbery began after Early and his girlfriend left CityScapes Gentlemen’s Club in Queens. About a mile later, the Uber cab was surrounded by three cars at a red light, law enforcement officials said.

Early’s car tried to drive away, according to the New York Daily News, but the cars boxed it in at the next intersection. Two of six men pulled Early from the car and took cash, an iPhone, gold caps on his teeth and two necklaces. He was shot in the right kneecap before the men drove away.

“It was a messed-up situation,” Early’s girlfriend, Iliana Douge, told the Daily News. “It’s not what you expect when you go out to have a good time.”

Early and the driver tried to get help in the neighborhood. The gold caps were found lying in the street.

“It was madness in the middle of the night,” Armand Czapkowski, who lives in the neighborhood, told the Daily News. “I heard him yelling. … It looked like the guy was in pain. He started cursing.”

The robbers also took the driver’s identification card, according to the Daily News. The paper was told by a law-enforcement source that the driver was ruled out as a suspect.

Two men with semi-automatic pistols pulled Early from the car and took cash, gold caps in his teeth and two necklaces. He was shot in the right kneecap, the officials said.

Police were searching for suspects and trying to determine whether it was a carefully planned attack or a spur-of-the-moment hit. The theft comes about 10 days after Knicks forward Derrick Williams was robbed of $617,000 in jewelry from his home. He had taken home two women from a Manhattan club. Police are still looking for suspects.

Wichita State senior Fred VanVleet had not been able to reach Early, as of Wednesday afternoon. He planned to keep trying later in the day.

“We’re glad he’s alive and hopefully he’s doing well,” VanVleet said.

WSU coach Gregg Marshall reached Early’s agent.

“Our hearts are with Cleanthony on this difficult day,” Marshall said in a news release. “Because he lost his cell phone in the robbery, he has been unable to receive texts or calls, but I reached out to him this morning through his business manager and let him know that he and his family are in my prayers. We are relieved to hear reports that he is in stable condition, and we wish him a speedy recovery.”

Early, who played two seasons with Wichita State, was picked in the second round of the NBA Draft in 2014. He grew up in the Bronx before moving upstate to Middletown, N.Y.

Cleanthony Early's dunk on Kentucky as photographed from different angles in the 2014 NCAA Tournament in St. Louis. (Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle)

On Tuesday night, Early played 29 seconds in a 108-96 win over Detroit at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks play at Chicago on Friday.

Early, a 6-foot-8 forward, has played in 10 games this season and averages 0.7 points. He also played in two games for the Westchester (N.Y.) Knicks of the NBA Development League.

Early missed two months of the 2014-15 season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the same one injured in Wednesday’s shooting.

At WSU, he averaged 15.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in two seasons (2012-14) after transferring from SUNY Sullivan Community College, located 115 miles north of New York in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. He earned consensus All-American honors as a Shocker senior and a spot on the NCAA All-Tournament team in 2013.

The robberies of two Knicks players raises questions about whether NBA players should have a curfew like other professional sports. In April, Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland, his girlfriend and another woman were stabbed following a late-night argument on the street near a Manhattan nightclub.

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said the assault on Early was a sign that more gun control is needed.

“That’s just the life we live,” Anthony said. “We can’t control that. If we try to stay away from every place we go to and worry about safety and security, then we will just be in the house all day, every day.”

Contributing: Associated Press, Newsday

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

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