Early, Baker work around NBA buzz heading into season
As March Madness came to a close in April, whispers of an NBA future for Wichita State's Cleanthony Early became louder.
Scouts continue to give Early, who produced 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a junior, looks as he starts his senior season. But redshirt sophomore Ron Baker is drawing interest, as well, because of a smooth shooting stroke and defensive presence.
"I really appreciate these guys working hard and gaining those opportunities," Early said. "I hope more of my teammates actually have that opportunity, and that chance, and people say those things about them."
Rumors of the future bring another concentration test on the Shockers this season. Wichita State already will take everyone's best shot after its trip to the Final Four.
"That's last year. We're trying to embark on some new accomplishments," said junior Tekele Cotton.
The Shockers are the unanimous pick to win the Missouri Valley Conference. Early and Baker are preseason all-conference selections.
"If everybody can shine like Cleanthony did last year, then we're going to be a pretty good team," Baker said.
Early did yoga in the offseason to improve his defensive stance. He will be counted on to offer help in the paint, where the Shockers lost a talented group to graduation, including Carl Hall (12.5 ppg).
Kadeem Coleby and Chadrack Lufile are likely to get the first opportunities to fill Hall's shoes. Early said Lufile still has a "long way to go," but the game is coming easier to him.
Early and Baker are likely to assume most of the load on offense. Those are part of the skills that are drawing attention from pro scouts. But Baker promises that is far from his thoughts right now.
"I really haven't looked that far ahead," he said. "I'm just really focused on one day at a time right now."
The Shockers will play an exhibition game Saturday at Koch Arena. Cotton said that environment is a great atmosphere.
"Wichita is love. Everybody from Wichita shows you love," he said. "The fans are amazing here. I'm blessed to be at a school where the fans are hands-on, and they really appreciate what we do."
** In case you missed it **
** Friday **
- Gregg Marshall previews this year's team and its expectations