Cleanthony Early

Training Cleanthony: How a West Point coach helped build WSU star

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Cleanthony Early has been named MVC Newcomer of the Year twice already this season. “Cle” came out of Pine Bush, NY as a slender, lightly recruited kid, blossomed in junior college, and is now averaging 13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and a block per game as a 6’8″, 215-lb. junior for 7-0 Wichita State. I spoke with Rick Scarpulla, a trainer and Power Lifting coach at West Point, about how he helped build Early into a DI athlete.

CBT: How did you meet Cle?

Rick Scarpulla: Cle was just finishing up high school. Another athlete, who’s now a DI football player, brought him to me. He said “this guy can ball, but he’s got no body.” High school coaches are so focused on practicing with the ball in the hand; if they spend 30 minutes a day on basic athletic training kids stay stronger and are less injury-prone.

Every big man’s recruiting report says he needs to get stronger to compete in college. How do you do that?

My whole premise of training is built on becoming a better athlete. We work on speed, strength, flexibility, balance, optical recognition and reaction. You have to gain complete athleticism. It’s all about first-step speed and explosive power in any sport.

Defense takes endurance. How do you train a kid to be explosive out of that stance?

That’s all in the posterior chain. Focusing on that area during training allows someone to properly break down into a defensive basketball stance. You take the pressure off the knees and put it on the hamstrings and glutes, which are designed to raise and lower the body.

How much do you focus on a player’s mind while you’re training him?

The mind takes the body where it needs to go. I’ve told Cle a thousand times that this is his shot, and I believe he can play at the highest level. He has to believe he can do it.

If a kid without access to great facilities wants to get stronger, what can he do?

Jump training is one of the best things you can do, and you can do it anywhere. Jump high, low, long. Jump rope. Jump from a seated position, from a kneeling position, holding weights. A kid in his backyard can do all of the old-school things to get stronger.

What part of your workouts did Cleanthony hate most?

I would have to say burpees. We may do a few hundred in a session. Cle absolutely hated it. We had a few big guys who trained with Cle and he always joked “They can feel my pain. This ain’t for a tall man!” But I know I can’t school Cle in basketball, he’s got all those skills. What I did made him stronger, more explosive, able to jump higher. Simple concepts that translate onto the court for him. I’ve had cadets come back after crawling through caves in Afghanistan, and they did the same mental and physical training.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.