Get to know Cleanthony Early, the star forward who wants to lead Wichita State back to the Final Four
Last spring, Cleanthony Early and the Number 9-seeded Wichita State Shockers became the darlings of the Big Dance when they won four straight games to reach the Final Four. (They lost to eventual champion Louisville.) The Shockers' hot streak has carried into this season: They enter the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament as the nation's only undefeated team at 34-0 and are the top seed in the Midwest bracket. Early, a 6′ 8″ forward, was leading the team with 16.0 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. SI Kids asked the former junior college player about the emotions of the NCAA tournament, what music pumps him up, and how he expects to close out his senior season.
How would you describe the feeling of stepping on the court during March Madness?
It's like everything you've ever dreamed about, but it's right there — right in front of you to go capture.
Fill in the blank: Wichita State basketball is:
Really, really, really good!
What was it like playing in the Final Four last year?
That was crazy. The whole experience was great, especially to go there with a group of guys like we went with. It was awesome.
How would you describe your style of play?
I'm very versatile. I try to do everything on the court that I possibly can, whether it's getting steals, deflections, rebounds, blocks, and obviously scoring. Doing whatever it takes to win.
If you could have any superpower on the court, what would it be?
I'd be super-duper smart. The smartest guy on the court, along with physical talent — that would be perfect.
What is the origin story behind your first name?
My dad's name is Cleveanthony and I guess my mom just took out the V and the E. People call me Cle here, but before, everyone used to call me Anthony or Ant.
What music do you listen to before a big game?
I listen to a lot of artists — Jay Z, Drake (left), Lil Wayne, J. Cole, and also gospel, pop, and rock and roll songs. I have 3,000 to 4,000 songs on my phone. It's been that way since 2009.
What's one thing people may not know about the city of Wichita?
The first Pizza Hut ever was started out here.
Fill in the blank: The best way to end my college career would be to:
Win the national championship and then go in the first round in the NBA draft!
Photo: RANDY TOBIAS FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED