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WSU's Early chosen by the New York Knicks

6/27/2014

By PAUL SUELLENTROP

By PAUL SUELLENTROP

McClatchy-Tribune

For the first time since 1987, the NBA drafted a Wichita State athlete.

It doesn't need to stop there.

The New York Knicks picked forward Cleanthony Early, a senior second-team All-American, with the 34th pick in Thursday's draft. He could join Toure Murry, also a former Shocker, who spent his rookie season with the Knicks and is a free agent.

Early was projected by many mock drafts to go in the first round. He fell to the Knicks early in the second round, and received the bonus of returning home. Early grew up in the Bronx and Middletown, N.Y.

Around 25-30 friends and family gathered at Jay-Z's 40/40 Club, in Brooklyn, to watch the draft with Early.

"It was long," said Pat Chellel, a friend who joined the party. "Then a few minutes before they made the choice, he got the phone call from the Knicks. He grew up in New York. He's going to play in Madison Square Garden."

The difference between first- and second-round picks is significant.

First-round picks receive a two-year guaranteed deal and the rookie scale for players near the bottom of the first round is around $900,000. Second-round picks are not guaranteed. The NBA rookie minimum salary is $507,000 for next season.

The Knicks and WSU share a bit of history. They drafted Shocker star Dave Stallworth in the first round in 1965. In 1970, Stallworth and ex-Shocker Nate Bowman played on the NBA champion Knicks.

As teams passed on Early, ESPN's panel of hosts and experts seemed mystified, as did others. Houston forward Chandler Parsons tweeted: "Makes 0 sense that Early has not been drafted. Kid can play."

When the Knicks grabbed him, ESPN's Jay Bilas proclaimed it a good fit. Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons predicted fans will fall in love.

"Cleanthony Early is a first-round talent," Bilas said. "He had 31 points going up against Julius Randle in the NCAA Tournament."

Friday is the fourth anniversary of the death of Jamel Early, Cleanthony's older brother. Jamel, 32, drowned while swimming in a creek with friends.

"It's been so strange dealing with this wide range of emotions," said Sandra Glover, their mother. "There's so much excitement and joy about what's going on with Cleanthony but we also have so much sadness because we miss (Jamel) so much. I pray every day that he is looking over us and every time I talk to Cleanthony, he says, 'Mama, my big brother is with me all the time. I can feel him watching over me this whole time.' "

Landry Shamet watched the NBA Draft at his house in Kansas City, curious to see how the draft treated Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum at the top of the proceedings.

He also paid attention to Early.

Shamet, a 6-foot-3 guard from Park Hill (Mo.) High, visited Wichita State, scholarship offer in hand, on Wednesday to watch practice and tour the campus. He wants to pick a program that can help him play professionally. WSU -- with Murry and Gal Mekel in the NBA and Early on the way -- can make that claim.

"That's a huge thing," Shamet said. "Any time a school is putting out guys like, it's eye-opening."

Picture WSU coach Gregg Marshall in a recruit's living room in 2012. He couldn't show anybody a recent Shocker in the NBA. While Antoine Carr and Xavier McDaniel helped the program with the "Play Angry" slogan, their NBA careers mean little to kids born in 1996.

Now the NBA discussion can move high on the list of Marshall's talking points. He can tell a recruit that Murry and Early came to WSU with minimal hype ­-- certainly neither was a McDonald's All-American -- and developed into pros.

Think you're a pro? So do we. Come to WSU and we can help prove it.

"And there's more coming," Marshall said. "All these guys that are in the program now see what's happening and are working hard. If we continue to have success, they'll have opportunities."

Early (6-foot-8, 220 pounds) averaged 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior, ending his career with 31 points in a loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. He made 66 of 176 (37.5 percent) three-pointers, shot 48.6 percent from the field and 84.4 percent from the foul line. As a junior, Early averaged 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. He made 31.8 percent (47 of 148) of his threes and shot 45.5 percent from the field.

Early, 23, raised his NBA profile in the 2013 Final Four against Louisville with 24 points and 10 rebounds. He backed that up against Kentucky -- a team loaded with NBA potential -- in March. In seven NCAA Tournament games, Early made 51 of 92 shots (55.4 percent) and 15 of 37 threes (40.5). He averaged 19.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.

The Los Angeles Clippers picked Henry Carr in the seventh and final round in 1987. Soon after, WSU's fortunes faded and NBA prospects largely disappeared.

Now the NBA Draft is two rounds and the Shockers are back on the board.