After almost four months of waiting and weighing the options, CJ Elleby has decided to bet on himself.
The electric Washington State wing announced Friday on Twitter he’ll be leaving his name in the NBA draft pool, effectively concluding his memorable but short two-year Cougars career — and leaving much-improved Wazzu short its superstar.
“My last two years at Washington State University have been a childhood dream come true,” Elleby said in a video attached to his post. “I fell in love with basketball at a young age. My love has only grown stronger while playing in Pullman. Thank you Coug nation.
“Through constant hard work and dedication, I have put myself in a really good position, one that allows me to potentially live out another lifelong dream, of playing in the NBA.”
Added second-year WSU coach Kyle Smith, who benefited mightily during Elleby’s sophomore season, a 16-16 breakthrough year for the Cougs: “CJ weighed all of his options and made a well-informed decision. He will always be remembered in Pullman, and we cannot thank him enough for his efforts. Once a Coug, always a Coug.”
On Tuesday, Elleby became the first Cougar since NBA sharpshooter Klay Thompson in 2011 to be invited to the league’s combine, which tentatively will take place just before October’s draft. It’s feasible the development persuaded the All-Pac-12 first-teamer, who — along with dozens of other players in similar situations — has had his scouting opportunities limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because the combine will fall after the Aug. 3 deadline for college underclassmen to withdraw from the draft pool, Elleby had a decision to make: Remain at WSU for a junior year during a time when 2020-21 collegiate seasons are becoming tenuous, or prove himself at the combine without pre-draft feedback from teams.
Players going through the pre-draft process hadn’t been permitted time for in-person workouts with NBA teams because of coronavirus protocols. The combine represents a chance for Elleby to showcase what he’s been pitching to interested franchises via online meetings.
Elleby already had met with half of the league’s teams in May, according to a report then from the Spokesman-Review.
“I want to thank my family for their continuing support and love. I want to thank (former) coach (Ernie) Kent for bringing me to Pullman. I want to thank coach Smith and his entire staff currently at Washington State, and all the supporting staff we have,” Elleby said. “It’s been an amazing journey, and with that being said, I am glad to announce that I’ll be keeping my name in the 2020 NBA draft and signing with an agent. Go Cougs.”
In his tweet’s text, Elleby wrote: “I will always be a Coug! And I have so much love for the Pullman community. The last two years have been my best!”
Elleby told reporters in April his choice whether to return to Wazzu would depend on how certain a guaranteed NBA contract was, so perhaps his draft stock has risen above what’s currently floating around the internet.
Cougfan.com had a story in early-June, detailing where Elleby was being ranked on national mock boards for the two-round, 60-pick draft. Three publications mentioned the 6-foot-6, 200-pounder: CBS Sports rated him the No. 88 NBA prospect available; Sports Illustrated tabbed him 62nd, and NBADraft.net has him as a second-round pick, at No. 37.
After his record-breaking all-freshman Pac-12 season in 2018-19 — the first such award for a Coug in nine years — Elleby declared for the draft, but opted to withdraw. He told the Lewiston Tribune in fall 2019 he’d met with seven teams, and learned he needed to shore up his defense, above all else.
He did so, plus some, captaining Wazzu to a resurgence under its first-year coach.
The lengthy and predictive Elleby was a nightmare at the arc for opposing ballhandlers. He led the Pac-12 with 56 steals (1.8 per game). He averaged 7.8 boards per night — seventh in the league.
Offensively, he scored 18 points per game, the No. 4 mark in the conference and a top-10 WSU scoring season all-time.
He spearheaded WSU to an upset of No. 8 Oregon, hit a game-winning 3-pointer to topple Arizona State, and guided a rare Cougar sweep of Apple Cup rival Washington, tallying a career-high 34 points in a Beasley Coliseum win before netting his 1,000th point in a gutsy effort in his hometown of Seattle (Elleby was an all-state honoree at Cleveland High School).
For his WSU finale, Elleby compiled 30 points, lifting the 11th-seeded Cougars to a rout of Colorado in the program’s first conference tournament win in 11 seasons. The spread of the coronavirus halted Wazzu’s run the next day.
“We are thrilled CJ decided to return for his sophomore campaign,” Smith said. “He was instrumental in re-energizing Wazzu basketball. It is our hope that the players returning to our program will pick up where CJ left off.”
WSU’s incoming recruiting class ranks 32nd in the NCAA, according to 247Sports.com. It’s healthy enlistment of four-star talents will join 2019-20 standouts such as point guard Isaac Bonton and guard Noah Williams. If Elleby were to have returned, WSU surely would be in the running for a postseason berth next season.
Colton Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.