While not taking a stereotypical route to being an All-American, Cleanthony Early’s Wichita State team had the first undefeated regular season since 1991, but before that, his career almost became a drop in the bucket.
Despite being the No. 102 small forward in the nation and a two-star recruit in 2010, Early decided to stay close to home at Sullivan County Community College on the outskirts of his native New York City. After just two seasons and two Division III NJCAA Player of the Year awards, it became clear that he was meant for more. It was at this time where Early would pack his bags and move to Wichita, Kan., to join the Wichita State Shockers.
In just his first year at the school, Early led the Shockers to their first Final Four since 1964 after averaging 13.9 ppg on the season. The next season he led the team to the best regular season record by a Division I school in NCAA history with a scoring average of 16.4 ppg.
Following the historic season, Early declared for the draft and was selected 34th overall to his hometown New York Knicks.
In two seasons with the team, he split time between the NBA and the team's D-League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks. In the NBA, the forward averaged 3.6 ppg. He posted 18.3 ppg playing in the D League.
In late 2016, the Westchester Knicks traded Early to the Santa Cruz Warriors, where he averaged 10 ppg that season despite only playing 14 games that season as he recovered from a knee injury as a result of being shot.
After starting the 2017-18 season in Santa Cruz, he was traded again to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. In his final stint in the G-league, Early averaged 12.2 ppg.
Early’s first destination after the Vipers was Atomerőmű SE of the Hungarian Nemzeti Bajnokság I/A, the highest league of Hungarian club, where he signed in August 2019. Just two months later, Early ventured to the Middle East, where he signed with Al Ahli of the Saudi Basketball league.
After a year in Saudi Arabia, the forward traveled to France and signed a five-year deal with Antibes Sharks of the LNB Pro B. He found success with the team as he scored 41 points in a game and garnered a LNB Pro B player of the week award during the season.
A year later, in November 2021, he inked a new deal with New Taipei CTBC DEA of the T1 League, and another one with the Cape Town Tigers of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) in May 2022 ahead of the BAL playoffs.
Early signed with Homenetmen Beirut of the Lebanese Basketball league for the 2023-24 season and will play there this upcoming season.
After his decision to leave New York City, Cleanthony Early has certainly traveled far from home to pursue his passion for the game.