KIGALI, Rwanda — Small forward Cleanthony Early, 31, played his part in the Cape Town Tigers of the African Basketball League six years after his time with the New York Knicks ended unceremoniously.
Ahead of Rwanda’s BAL playoff appearance, Early told ESPN that leaving the NBA helped him rediscover his love for the game, as his time with the Knicks, which ended in 2016, cost him the enjoyment. it.
Early didn’t have an easy time after being drafted in 2014, culminating in a December 2015 shooting while leaving a New York strip club with his girlfriend. He was hit in the knee by the robber, who demanded that he hand over his “gold”, including the hat on his teeth.
Early told ESPN ahead of this weekend’s knockout game in Kigali: “I would say when I got in touch with the Knicks, s— it was crazy, even on the court, [that] As a professional player, basketball is no longer fun for the first time.
“That – it’s weird. I’m not ready. I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t like that, but if I want to be a professional, I have to get used to it.
“I did it, but I didn’t have a chance to fit it in the way I needed or wanted in the NBA because I got shot and the reputation was built [of a player who hung in the wrong places at the wrong times] People had a preconceived idea of who I would be, joining the team.
“I’ve had a lot of fun since I went abroad. I’ve had more fun when I’m in the G-League… It’s been amazing to play with my talents and play overseas. I’ve had a lot of fun and met greatness people, experienced a great culture, a great country, saw different places I didn’t even know existed.”
Since leaving the Knicks, Early has played for teams in Greece, France, Saudi Arabia and the US lower leagues, most recently with CTBC DEA in New Taipei.
When asked what particularly attracted him to the Tigers, Early said: “My season in Taiwan ended early so I had a chance to go home for a while, and several agents contacted me and they almost introduced I have a chance.
“This is Africa; this is BAL. Taiwan is amazing, but my uncle passed away, so I want to rush home to feed my family and be with my family.
“They had a 15-day quarantine and a whole bunch of other requests for me to come back. By then, the season is over and we’re probably going to lose the playoffs. That kind of defeats the purpose of being back there.
“When I got this opportunity in Cape Town, I saw it on TV. I always told myself it was going to be an exciting league and I hope I can experience it. I had this idea, when it It’s been fantastic when it comes to the interim results.”
Read: Everything you need to know about BAL 2022
By his own admission, while there are some BAL players he is familiar with, he doesn’t have much experience with African basketball or life on the continent.
“I know [Michael] Dixon.I know [Edgar] Sosa [at Zamalek]. Some people from New York, I met in the city. It was so cool to see them from high school and to be overseas.we grew up [and went to] South America, NBA, [and] Africa – it’s just a good feeling,” he said.
Frankly, the Tigers stunned fans as they reached the knockout stage, where they face Dixon’s U.S. team Monastir in Sunday’s quarterfinals. When asked what he could add to the team ahead of this crucial game, Early didn’t skimp on his words.
“Just some experience and some talent. I feel like I’m a good player. I feel like any team I’m on, I can do better, even at the NBA level. I don’t think there’s a team in basketball. If the team can do it, I will keep working to make it worse,” he said.
BAL airs on ESPN in Africa as well as ESPN+ and ESPNNews in the US.