How Cleanthony Early became a Final Four-caliber player

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I originally ran this article on December 1, 2012, when we barely knew who Cleanthony Early was. The story happened to run on the same day that coaching legend Rick Majerus passed away, so it was understandably overshadowed. Now that “Cle” is playing on college basketball’s biggest stage, it’s worth a second look.

Anthony came out of Pine Bush, NY as a slender, lightly recruited kid, blossomed in junior college, and is now starring in the Final Four as a 6’8″, 215-lb. junior for 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.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.