PULLMAN — CJ Elleby got a small taste of the NBA, but the Washington State forward will wait at least one more year to pursue professional basketball full-time.
Elleby, a Cleveland High product, exercised his option as an underclassman to test the NBA draft waters and worked out with six different pro teams over the last few months, but the Cougars’ leading returning scorer and rebounder has opted to come back to school for his sophomore season, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported Tuesday morning.
After putting his name in the NBA draft pool two months ago, Elleby went through workouts with the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics.
According to a source, Elleby had “some strong interest to be drafted in the second round” but elected to come back to help “change the program as well as giving him more time to develop.”
Elleby also participated in the inaugural NBA G League Elite Camp, along with former WSU teammate Robert Franks, scoring 5.5 points per game on 33 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent from three-point range.
Even if interest in Elleby escalated through the pre-Draft process, the player’s decision to return isn’t considered a major surprise, given that no mock drafs projected to be taken on June 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
With his return, Elleby becomes the most important pickup of Kyle Smith’s first recruiting cycle as WSU coach. Franks’ graduation means Elleby is the Cougars’ top returning scorer, at 14.7 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Elleby was an immediate impact player for WSU as a freshman, starting in 28 of 32 games for former coach Ernie Kent and becoming the first Cougar player to be named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team since 2010. Late in the season, Elleby passed former WSU standout Klay Thompson on the single-season freshman scoring list and then broke the school record held by Steve Puidokas.
As a rookie, the Seattle native and Cleveland High graduate thrived in Kent’s run-and-gun system — one that prioritized scoring the ball over defense — but in a recent interview after a workout with the Pacers, Elleby indicated he’d have to adapt to Smith’s defensive-minded schemes.
“I think if I choose to go back, just depending on the decision I make, defense is going to have to be a bigger importance,” Elleby said. “I’m going to really have to harp and buckle down on that.”
Elleby also suggested it was important to show NBA teams “I’m a versatile player and I can guard one through four.”
Rule changes introduced three years ago have allowed players to enter the NBA draft and receive feedback without fully committing to a pro career, as long as they withdraw before the May 29 deadline. A handful of WSU players, including Franks, Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu and Conor Clifford, have taken advantage — all eventually choosing to return to school.
With Elleby’s return, Smith will bring back at least four players from last year’s Cougar team. Jef Pollard, Aljaz Kunc and Jervae Robinson are all expected to return and recent reports have indicated point guard Ahmed Ali could also come back to WSU for his senior season after entering the NCAA transfer portal.