There are many instances in college basketball where NBA potential is noticeable in a player as soon as he steps foot on his college’s campus. There are some players who are tabbed as lottery picks before they graduate from high school. There are also unheralded athletes who rise to the occasion during tournament season and emerge as top prospects.
Wichita State senior forward Cleanthony Early didn’t begin his collegiate career with the hype of a Jabari Parker or Julius Randle. Instead, Early began playing college basketball at Division-III JUCO, Sullivan (N.Y.) County Community College. He was named the Player of the Year both years he played there and averaged 20 points as well as 11 rebounds as freshman.
Despite his success, Early transferred to the mid-major powerhouse Wichita State basketball program. It was a move that was mutually beneficial for both Early and WSU. Through coach Gregg Marshall‘s excellent teaching ability, Early has developed into a professional prospect and has propelled the Shockers to national prominence.
The 6-foot-8 senior averaged 16 points and five rebounds per game this season. His unique combination of size and quickness allows him to outmaneuver most defenders on his way to the basket. He also has room to become a much better rebounder. He has the motor to attack the glass; Early just needs to bulk up to become a threat in the paint. He is dangerous from the perimeter as well—from the defensive and offensive sides.
The biggest knock on Early is the uncertainty of his position. Does he even have a true position? He has the length of a power forward but the ball skills of a guard. The likes of the Sacramento Kings’ Derrick Williams and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Perry Jones haven’t panned out while in the NBA as hybrid big-me,n but they both still have great upside. In fact, Sacramento reached out to get Williams in a trade because it feels he can be a piece of its rebuilding puzzle.
The team that drafts Early will get a truly versatile player who can affect the game in multiple areas, but how long will it take for him to be ready to contribute? If I was building a team, a player with Early’s upside would be hard to pass up on.