Kyle Smith won a handful of important recruiting battles this offseason, but the Washington State coach ultimately lost the one involving star forward CJ Elleby and the NBA.
Elleby, who’s spent the last four months contemplating whether he’d return to school for his junior season or begin a career in professional basketball, announced on Twitter Friday he’ll be keeping his name in the NBA draft — a huge hit for a team that had its postseason hopes resting on Elleby spending another year in Pullman.
“My last two years at Washington State University have been a dream come true,” Elleby said in a Twitter video. “I fell in basketball at a young age. My love has only grown stronger while playing in Pullman. Thank you Coug nation for a great experience. Through constant hard work and dedication, I have put myself in a really good position — one that potentially allows me to live out another lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.
“I want to thank my family for their continuous support and love. I want to thank 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 supported staff we have. 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.”
The 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing was the main source of offense and rebounding for WSU in Smith’s first season, leading the Cougars in both points (18.0) and rebounds (7.8) as a sophomore en route to All-Pac-12 First Team honors.
It’s possible Elleby’s decision was informed by a recent invitation to the NBA’s pre-draft Combine — an event that could help boost his profile among general managers, coaches and scouts, especially in the current environment with Elleby and other prospects unable to work out in person for NBA teams. Typically, between 50-70 players are invited to the Combine and Elleby will be the first WSU player to participate in the event since current Golden State Warrior Klay Thompson did so in 2011.
Because a date for the Combine hasn’t been announced, but would definitely land after the Aug. 3 deadline when college underclassmen have to withdraw their names from the NBA draft, Elleby and others had to make decisions on their future without the feedback they would’ve received at the annual pre-draft scouting event in Chicago.
The majority of mock NBA drafts haven’t indicated Elleby is among one of the top 60-70 players available and the Seattle native didn’t make The Athletic’s list of the top 100 prospects. It’s possible, or perhaps even likely, that Elleby’s stock has risen since the season ended, because the player indicated in more than one interview a decision to leave school and pursue the NBA was contingent on him receiving a guaranteed contract from at least one team.
A source told The Spokesman-Review in May Elleby had scheduled 15 Zoom meetings — held in lieu of on-site workouts due to COVID-19 — with NBA teams, and it’s possible he’s conducted more since. By comparison, only seven teams brought Elleby to their facility for workouts when he entered the draft in 2019 after his freshman season.
Elleby’s return could’ve catapulted the Cougars, who finished 11th in the Pac-12 standings before routing Colorado in the first round of the conference tournament, into the top half of the league, which undoubtedly would’ve placed WSU in the conversation for a postseason berth — be that in the NCAA tournament or NIT.