SAN FRANCISCO – Regardless of what might have been said, CJ Elleby never had serious intentions on transferring from Washington State.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward admitted he was dismayed at the firing of former coach Ernie Kent and for several long months he considered turning pro.
“I felt like I could test the NBA waters and see how far I could go,” said Elleby, who participated in the NBA G League Elite Camp. “It was fun; got to do different tests and be around good players and see where I was at.
“I got to talk with good coaches.”
However, it was conversation with new WSU coach Kyle Smith that ultimately led Elleby back to Pullman.
“Once I got to be around him and got to know him for a little bit, I was very comfortable staying at Washington State,” Elleby said. “He’s very clear in what he wants and makes it very clear on how we’re going to get there.”
Smith, who spent the previous three years at San Francisco where he won at least 20 games every season, understood why Elleby was hesitant on rejoining the Cougars.
“He has the most to lose by having a coaching change,” said Smith, who recruited the former Cleveland High standout in high school. “For him to opt back in and embrace what we’re doing is special.”
Securing Elleby, WSU’s leading returning scorer who averaged 14.7 points last season, was the biggest offseason acquisition for Smith.
Elleby, who was selected to the All-Pac-12 preseason first team, is one of three returning starters, including junior guard Marvin Cannon and senior forward Jeff Pollard.
The trio provide a little bit of stability for a program that brings in seven new players and is implementing Smith’s “Nerdball” system, which is an analytics-driven approach.
“The coaches have found a way to give a number value to things that were previously unstatable,” Pollard said. “They have their own set of metrics and things that they look at. Things that most people wouldn’t even try to get a point value to.
“Every little thing matters. … A big attention to detail.”
It’s an unconventional approach, but maybe that’s what needed at a place like Washington State, which was 11-21 overall and 4-14 in the Pac-12 last season. The Cougars’ last trip to the NCAA tournament was in 2007.
“I think Pullman is the greatest place on Earth, but I’ll admit that maybe you need an alternative way of thinking if you’re going to win there,” Pollard said. “Coach Smith has us looking at the game in a totally new way and we’ve bought in.”
Coaches weigh in on pay for play
The Pac-12 coaches weighed in on the new California law that will make it easier for college athletes in the state to profit from their own name, image and likeness, beginning in 2023.
Utah’s Larry Krystowiak: “We’ve actually been in a little bit of gray area with recruiting issues to begin with rules in place and to me it potentially could open a whole can of worms. I’ve read various people’s ideas, but really I’m just kind of in a position that you can’t win. I just want what’s best for our student-athletes. If we can find some common ground, I think that’s great.”
Colorado’s Tad Boyle: “That’s the big concern with the NCAA is how will it affect recruiting and howcan we legislate it and then how can we enforce it,whatever changes come. We have that right now. If we change what amateurism looks like and what can and can’t be done, we have to figure out how do wel egislate it and how do we endorse it.”
Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle: “I know we can all think about the negatives that come from it, but let’s try to boil down the positives and see if somehow we can put solutions to regulate those things where it’s fair and equitable across the board throughout thecountry. If that’s what we want, we need to make it that way if we’re going to continue with the way we have things organized.”
Washington’s Mike Hopkins: “You know what, we’ve talked about it. I’ve read some articles on it. I don’t know enough about it. I think the most important thing is that we get educated, that the student-athletes get educated on it. Does it mean is it one player that gets sponsored by, if it’s the Olympic model, Snickers or whatever it is, or is it not — ticket sales? Like how does it work? What’s the structure? But you know, they’ve got some of the best minds in the sport, especially in the NCAA, trying to work out and understand the ins and outs of it, but I’m not too — I need to be more educated on it before I talk about it.”
Meawhile, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is in favor of the California law that’s being considered by dozens of states.
“We need to stay current with what’s happening,” he said. “I’m glad it was passed because it pushes the envelope, it pushes the issue.”