Because of the novel coronavirus, the pre-NBA draft process won’t look the way it did last year for CJ Elleby, but Washington State’s top scorer and rebounder will go through it nonetheless while still preserving his college eligibility, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports first reported Saturday morning.
As other deadlines have been pushed back by the COVID-19 pandemic, Elleby’s announcement came approximately three weeks later than it did last year, but the player told reporters on a Zoom call Saturday afternoon he had “nothing to lose” by putting his name in the draft pool.
“I’m just looking for that team to take a chance on me and believe in my abilities and see some potential in me,” Elleby said. “That’s the main thing, is seeing who has interest and seeing if I can slip into that draft.”
College underclassman are given the opportunity to declare for the NBA draft without fully committing to a future in professional basketball as long as they withdraw their name from the draft by a certain date. If Elleby wishes to return to WSU for his junior season, he must pull his name by 5 p.m. on June 15.
The forward from Seattle went through the pre- draft process last year, working out for the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers. The NBA has shut down operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the league in a frozen state, it’s unlikely Elleby and other underclassmen will have a chance to work out in front of teams before deciding if they want to withdraw.
Elleby returned home to Seattle when the Pac-12 Tournament was canceled – the Cougars would’ve played Arizona State in a quarterfinal game on March 12. Even with the shutdown, he’s been able to work on his game in a private gym with longtime trainer Cartiea French-Toney.
“I’m kind of embracing it just because I get to be home with my family,” Elleby said. “I really haven’t been home an extended amount of time like this in two years or so. … As far as workouts, it’s kind of good because I have a gym I have access to, and I have a pretty regular routine. I get my workouts in every day.”
Despite boosting his numbers in almost every offensive category, improving his defense and leading the Cougars to 16 wins as a sophomore, Elleby isn’t considered to be a consensus NBA draft pick. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie doesn’t have him listed on his most recent NBA Draft Big Board, which ranks the top 100 prospects, and not being able to participate in team workouts or combine-like setting could be damaging for players like Elleby that are thought to be fringe draftees.
Elleby explained the parameters that will determine whether he’ll keep his name in the draft and pursue professional basketball or return for his junior season in Pullman.
“I’m looking for a team that is basically telling me they’re going to pick me,” Elleby said. “I want a guaranteed contract. That’s pretty much it. It depends on the number of teams that are interested in me, so based on the (evaluation) I get back and word for the teams, it all depends on stuff like that.”
Right now, NBA teams aren’t permitted to contact draft-eligible players. Underclassmen are allowed to hire NCAA-certified agents while maintaining their college eligibility. Elleby signed with agent Paolo Zamorano after declaring for the 2019 draft but indicated he won’t be signing with an agent “anytime soon.”
The Cougars and second-year coach Kyle Smith will spend the next two months, at maximum, waiting on Elleby’s decision – something that would alter WSU’s outlook next season and potentially prompt the Cougars to make a midsummer addition to the roster.
“It’ll be a game-changer if CJ decides to opt in and stay in, but we’ll adjust,” Smith said earlier this week. “But it would be nice if he came back. We can make a big step forward.”
The 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward earned All-Pac-12 Conference honors after scoring 18.4 points per game this season, up from 14.7 as a freshman, and grabbing 7.8 rebounds after 7.1 in 2018-19. Elleby shot his free throws at an 82% clip after shooting 66% his freshman season but saw his 3-point shooting dip from 41% to 33%, although he had 90 more 3-point attempts as a sophomore.
Elleby, who was encouraged to focus on his defense when he worked out with NBA teams this time last year, averaged a Pac-12-high 1.8 steals per game and had 56 in total after just 33 the year prior. He also blocked 26 shots in 2019-20 after blocking 18 as a freshman.
“He’s been just really mature about it and trying to figure out what’s the right decision,” Smith said. “I think we’re returning enough guys. … Either way, it’s a more comforting thing, and he’ll be hard to replace if he does it, but just building a program there’s just more pieces involved.”
Elleby scored 20 points on 18 occasions last year and had a career-high 34 points in WSU’s 79-67 home win over Washington. In his return home to Seattle, Elleby scored 21 points on his birthday, also reaching 1,000 points on his career in a 78-74 win over the Huskies at Alaska Airlines Arena. Elleby capped the season with 30 points in the Cougars’ 82-68 win over Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament – WSU’s first conference tournament win in a decade.
“My job is to make sure we have a plan for him and let him know if he does come back, I don’t want it to be, ‘Oh, I settled on this,’ ” Smith said. “He’s not that way at all. He’s still only 19, and I think he enjoys college, I think he’s got really good relationships. We did our leadership survey with our team, and he excels in all areas.
“That’ll be part of his makeup going forward. He’ll be a hard-working leader, his dependability.”
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