Draft Day Sleepers?: Cleanthony Early & D.J. Balentine

Sometimes it's more interesting to look for who's not being advertised and ask 'why?' Maybe because it's a traditionally weak conference; maybe it's because the players look better all-around because they're up against much less talented opponents, which is pretty much a result of the former possibility. Maybe they're the only option on their team in a really weak year? The Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) is no exception to these obvious disclaimers.

Regardless, Wichita State is ranked #4 in the nation (also went up against Louisville in the NCAA semifinal last year), and is one of only two undefeated college mens basketball teams in the nation. Syracuse has managed to stay alive in close games recently, partly due to clutch late game shots by Tyler Ennis, but also the Orange Men have a variety of talents (see Jerami Grant). The leading scorer for Wichita State is Cleanthony Early, a 6'7" SF/PF-type player averaging 16.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 46% FG (5.0 - 10.9), 35% 3P (1.8 - 5.0), 84.8 FT% (4.5 - 5.3), 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, 2.0 turnovers in 27.6 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, that would be 21.2 points, 8 rebounds, 1.17 steals, 0.9 blocks. He's 6'7" with 6'9" wingspan at ~ 210 lbs and appear to be a tremendous athlete. Look him up on YouTube. There isn't very much footage of him, but I found these as an attempt to whet your appetite:

Visiting Alabama, Early tallied 26 points on 7-11 FG, 1-4 3P, 11-11 FT shooting, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal, 4 turnovers. Against Davidson, Early tallied 24 points on 8-15 FG, 3-6 3P, 5-6 FT shooting, 10 rebounds, 1 block, 1 turnover. In their overtime game against Missouri State, Early totaled 22 points on bad FG shooting but 13-14 FT shooting and 14 rebounds along with 2 blocks, 2 steals, 2 PF's, and 2 TOV's. He still had 22 points on 14 FGA's.

Also from the Missouri Valley Conference at Jerry Sloan's old stomping grounds, Evansville Ace (they dropped the 'Purple' but kept the color) D.J. Balentine is on a tear, averaging 23.2 points, 3.9 assists, 43.8 FG% (6.9 - 15.7), 40.8 3P% (2.3 - 5.7), 86.5 FT% (7.2 - 8.3), along with 2.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 1.7 fouls, 2.7 turnovers per 37.7 minutes.

Against Northern Iowa (the second time), Balentine scored 43 points, shooting 10-19 FG, 4-8 3P, and 19-21 FT ! He also had 3 assist and 1 turnover. Against # 4 Wichita State, Balentine scored 26 points, shooting 11-21 FG, 3-6 3P, only 1-2 FT, 1 turnover. Against Illinois State, Balentine went off for 38 points, shooting 8-15 FG, 2-5 3P, and 20-25 FT. Yes, 25 free-throw attempts. That is awesome for any division. Balentine is just an excellent shooter. If that wasn't enough, in his first 5 games of the season, Balentine scored 29, 29, 29, 32, and 29 points, respectively.

I'm not saying these guys are going to stealth their way into the draft,, but they are definitely interesting prospects I would invite with some other guys to run them through some workouts and drills and get a closer look at their skills set, tool set, athletic ability, work ethic, and mentality and such.

Wichita State also just happens to be playing the Evansville Aces today. I wonder if Jerry Sloan has taken the All-Star weekend off to see some games closer to his neck of the woods. I would certainly be interested in seeing how two of the best players in the MVC lead their respective teams against capable scoring opponents and see who brings better defense and play-making abilities. I wonder if Jerry Sloan has tickets.



All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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