Flowing blonde locks and a silky jump shot made a teenage Craig Ehlo an overawing figure to Kamie Ethridge.
Forty-two years removed from Ehlo’s senior year at Lubbock Monterey High School, Ethridge remembers watching the lanky forward putting on scoring clinics against West Texas’s best.
Ethridge frequented Monterey’s aptly named “The Box” gymnasium to watch older sister Kriss Ethridge do similar damage.
They often stayed for the subsequent Monterey boys game, where Ehlo – a future Washington State star who played 15 NBA seasons – doubled as a prep basketball spectacle and heartthrob.
”He was the cutest guy in school. Everyone had a crush on him,” recalled Ethridge, who was then a freshman at a neighboring junior high. “He was definitely too cool and popular for me, but he was much closer to my siblings.”
The two baby-blue jerseys currently hanging on opposite sides of an American flag in Monterey’s gymnasium tell a different story.
Ehlo and Ethridge’s respective No. 30 and No. 33 are retired and hold their own legend in Lubbock lore.
They’re prominent figures in Pullman, too. Ethridge led the Washington State women to their first NCAA Tournament in 30 years back in March, another highlight in a budding head coaching career that’s beginning to match her pedigree as a crafty, high-scoring guard.
Her reverence for Ehlo has long been reciprocated.
”When you look at her accolades and what she did as a player, it was amazing,” said Ehlo said, who now broadcasts WSU men’s games and is a longtime Spokane County resident. “If she played today in the media circus we have, she would be a household name.”
Kamie followed Kriss to the University of Texas, where she helped the Longhorns win a 1986 national title and National Player of the Year - the Wade Trophy – in the same season. Ethridge, who won Olympic gold in 1988 on the USA women’s team, also saw her burnt orange jersey retired at the University of Texas.
Ehlo was ecstatic when Washington State hired Ethridge from Northern Colorado in 2018, when she was named Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Bears to the NCAA Tournament. It was an odd collision of Ehlo’s two worlds.
”I was sure to tell (Washington State athletic director) Pat Chun what she did for my high school, the University of Texas and what she did for women’s basketball,” Ehlo said.
Both have given staunchest basketball fans in Lubbock – a city of more than 250,000 residents and home to Texas Tech University – a reason to pay attention to an Inland Northwest school 1,550 miles away.
Monterey graduate (1971), former area coach, current sports media personality and Lubbock Independent School District Athletic Hall of Fame chairman David Thetford has known Ehlo and Ethridge since they were children.
”They are well-remembered here, well thought of as two of the best players who have ever played in Lubbock,” Thetford said. “Funny that you have two of the Lubbock greats end up at the same place up there (at Washington State). Kind of crazy to think about.”
Ehlo’s collegiate road to Pullman wasn’t direct.
In football-crazy West Texas and on a Plainsmen team that struggled against the best hoops teams from the Dallas and Houston metro areas at the state tournament, Ehlo, who was admittedly rail thin and still maturing, didn’t generate much NCAA Division I recruiting interest. He was forced to physically develop two hours down the road at national junior college power Odessa College, where his jersey is hanging in the Wranglers’ Hall of Fame lobby alongside another NBA figure, former Charlotte Hornets and UNLV star Larry Johnson.
Ehlo began accruing interest from several big schools, but he gravitated toward then-Washington State head coach George Raveling’s vision and ultimately signed with the Cougars.
“Before I took this job, when I thought of Washington State basketball I thought of one player: Ehlo,” Ethridge said. “I didn’t know (former Washington State and current NBA star) Klay Thompson played here.”
After leading the Cougars to the 1983 NCAA Tournament and getting drafted by the Houston Rockets, many Lubbock residents scratched their heads.
“We would have loved to have had him at Texas Tech,” Thetford said.
Ehlo totaled 7,492 points, 2,456 assists and 3,139 rebounds in his NBA career, though many remember him for his ill-fated attempts at stopping the game’s ultimate figure, Michael Jordan.
“When he made it to the NBA, the town was so mad at Texas Tech for not recruiting him,” Ethridge said. “He had to go all the way out to Washington State, and now he is on TV guarding Michael Jordan.”
Ehlo ended his playing career with the Seattle Sonics in 1997, moved to the Spokane area in 1999 and has been deeply rooted in the area’s basketball scene since, either as a coach or in broadcasting.
Just one basketball player from Lubbock has reached heights similar to Ehlo and Ethridge since their former glory: former Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver, the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft and a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ehlo and Ethridge were inducted as part of the inaugural 2011 class in the Lubbock ISD Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Lubbock loves them and they love Lubbock,” Thetford said. “They’re great people from great families, and we’re proud of what they have done up there.”
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