Early talks transition to NBA life

Cleanthony Early will have to keep his eye on the ball now that he's in the NBA. Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Cleanthony Early has spent his summer preparing for life in the NBA.

Some of that preparation involves studying the Knicks’ offensive and defensive schemes.

But there’s another element that has nothing to do with X's and O's.

Early and the rest of the NBA’s rookies spent three days in Florham Park, New Jersey, earlier this month learning the ins and outs of life as a professional athlete during the league’s Rookie Transition Program.

The program is designed to help first-year players gain “the skills and information necessary for a successful transition to the NBA.”

One session included talks from former players Antoine Walker, Chris Herren, Jayson Williams and Jason Collins. Each player brought a unique perspective to the conversation. Walker had financial troubles after his career ended; Herren battled drug issues; Williams had legal troubles that resulted in jail time; Collins is the first openly gay player in the NBA.

Below, Early discusses his impression of the program and the guest speakers.

Q: What did you think of the stories?

Cleanthony Early: They were powerful stories. Jason Williams’ story, Jason Collins’ story, Antoine Walker’s story -- the things that those guys had to go through to get to the point of where they are today, it’s kind of astonishing. It just gives you some things to look out for. It kind of can establish an order of what to do and what not to do. Certain things you probably should stay away from; certain people you should probably stay away from. Decisions you should probably make. It just helps you just to understand the struggles that people deal with. ... Even if you’re not dealing with it, just to be a helping hand to a teammate that’s going through something, just to try to support them.

How did you benefit from this?

CA: I feel like I’ve benefited just by going through life and just understanding certain things through my community or hearing certain stories ... but to connect with them and have conversations is just adding on to the experience and reinforcing what to do and what not to do.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as a rookie?

CA: It’s pretty much the attention. It’s completely different from everything that you’ve ever experienced. The people that’s trying to throw themselves at you for whatever reason; some people come along with personal agendas, some people come along with pure intentions, to honestly get to know you. And I think you need to be a person that can distinguish the two and continue to build real relationships with real people. Because if it’s not, if it’s something that’s cancerous, it can be something that’s completely detrimental to something that you’re trying to build so you have to be aware. ... So you just have to make sure that you keep certain people around that are going to make you better.

What resonated with you most from the stories?

CA: It was always a connection with people that they kept around them and the choices that they made. Like with Antoine Walker; the people that he kept around him, he felt like they were his boys and he grew up with them. And once the money went, they kind of went, too. Now that he reflects back on it, he can see the signs that the people wanted to be around just for the money. And certain things that he probably should have paid a little bit more attention to, like giving certain family members a certain amount of money or a certain types of cars. [You shouldn’t] try to live too lavish or above your means. As far as Jason Collins, the message was ... having people support you for who you are and that’s being a good person rather than anything else ... trying to be a good person, regardless of what your sexual orientation is. As far as Chris, his friends and the people that always offered him drugs and falling victim to that. It was kind of like he needed someone to grab a hold of him or reach him and he said for a while that he was unreachable. But eventually it got to the point where he almost lost his family and he had to make a decision and he opened up to God and started praying and took a completely different road and he’s been on the right track ever since.

You see kind of a pattern -- everyone’s situation is different -- but I think once you continue to get to know yourself and keep positive people around you, I don’t think [difficult] situations will be too tough to go through.

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