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Pro Cougs: a look through Washington State’s history in the NBA Draft

The ghost of draftmas past, if you will.

Ashley Davis

It’s officially NBA Draft day, an exciting time for a couple of Washington State University basketball players. WSU has not been known as a hotbed for NBA talent, but there are two potential draftees currently departing from Pullman who are hoping to hear their names called today.

When thinking about WSU basketball and the draft, there are only a few names that we all tend to circle back to, but let’s take a stroll back through time and look at WSU’s rich -or not so rich- history with the NBA draft.


There were three Wazzu basketball players drafted before 1976, when the NBA and ABA merged. The Merger between the NBA and ABA is what invented the modern form of basketball that we know and love.

The three players were Robert Bishop in 1948, Ed Gayda in 1950, and Gene Conley in 1952. Of the three, only Conley stuck for more than a season, playing six seasons split between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. While his college stats are nearly impossible to find, his NBA stats point to him being an abject negative in the league. He never averaged double-figures and never shot 40% from the field, which is pretty horrendous, even in the 50s and 60s. Still, Bishop was the first Coug to make any real pro basketball noise and for that, we are grateful.

The ‘76 Duo

The 1976 NBA draft was a legendary one for a lot of reasons. For one, it went 10 rounds and had 173 total picks. This leads to weirdness like the University of Puget Sound producing two draft picks. It also had multiple future executives and GMs getting drafted, including Mitch Kupchak in the first round and Ed Stefanski in the 10th. Snuggled in at pick 70 and pick 134 were two Cougs, Ron Davis and Nate Barnhill.

Barnhill was a 6’5 wing who appeared in only 4 total games as an NBA player, but did play those games a couple hundred miles across the state in Seattle with the Supersonics. Davis was a 6’6 wing who had a short but weird career in the NBA. He played only seven games in the 1976-77 season for the Atlanta Hawks, then he took a three season hiatus, and came back to play 64 games for the San Diego Clippers in the 1980-81. He then barely played the next year and left the NBA with hardly a whisper.

Finally, a Real Guy

James Donaldson was drafted in 1979 to the Seattle Supersonics with pick 74, which was in the 4th round. Donaldson might not have reached the heights of fellow 79 draftees Magic Johnson or Sidney Moncrief, but after one season playing pro in Italy, Donaldson came over and built a nice, 15-year NBA career. The 7’2 big-man was born in Heacham, United Kingdom and managed to become a one-time All-Star during his NBA career. In that lone all-star season, Donaldson averaged only 7 points a game, but was noted for his impressive efficiency and defense.

At WSU, Donaldson played under the great George Raveling. He came up just short of making the NCAA tournament in his senior season, but he helped WSU to an 18-9 record and averaged 11 points and 3 blocks a game. The Big British is a legend in Pullman, and his 15-year NBA career remains the longest of any professional Coug to this day.

Don Collins Comin Through (and also another guy)

Don Collins’ 1979-80 season gets overlooked as one of the best seasons a Coug basketball player has ever had, and he parlayed that into being a first round selection in the 1980 draft. In his senior season at WSU, Collins led the WSU to the NCAA Tournament, scoring 23 points a game, shooting 59.7% from the field, and getting 2.7 steals. He was the 18th pick to the Atlanta Hawks in 1980 and the 6’6 wing was expected to return solid first-round value.

Sadly, Collins was a bit of a bust. He struggled to score efficiently and ended up getting traded to the Washington Bullets after his rookie season. He spent two more seasons with the Bullets, but his game never rounded into the scoring dynamo some expected him to be out of college. He spent a year with the Warriors and then went back to the Bullets before falling out of the league.

The Cougs also saw Stuart House get drafted in the 3rd round of the 1980 draft, but he never played a single NBA game. Because of the weirdness of the draft at this time, the final 5 rounds of the draft produced only 5 players who played even a single game in the NBA. There’s a reason the NBA has cut it to two rounds.

Guy and His Buddy Craig

The Cougs saw 4 players get drafted in the 1983, although only two ever played in the NBA. Guy Williams was the highest drafted of the bunch, going in the second round at pick 34 to the Bullets. Williams was ahead of his time as a 6’9 guy who could handle the rock and playmake for others and he dominated as a senior for Washington State. He led WSU to a 23-7 record behind 18.8 PPG on 56.7% shooting from the field. It never quite clicked for Williams in the big leagues, he played only two seasons and never put solid minutes together, but his WSU career is legendary.

Craig Ehlo went with the first pick in the third round to the Houston Rockets. His college career is interesting because he had a strong college career despite being a sharpshooter. At his best in the NBA, Ehlo could shoot 42% across an entire NBA season and he built his career on that. His outside shooting, great passing, and good defense allowed Ehlo to build a 14 year NBA career. He played for Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta, and spent his final season with the Supersonics. He is most remembered for being one of Michael Jordan’s victims, but he had a long and successful career in the league.

Steve Harriel and Aaron Haskins were also drafted in the 83 draft, but they never touched a floor in the league. The ‘83 season was one of the most successful in team history to this point and their success was reflected in the draft. Forever sad about our man Guy Williams, but his two 14 year NBA players in a span of 5 years is not too shabby.

WSU didn’t produce an NBA player for 6 seasons, but the 1989 draft saw Brian Quinnett go. Quinnett is what we refer to as a bucket and a problem, as he averaged 18.4 points on 49.7/36.4/72.4 splits as a 6’8 wing. Quinnett’s team was not great, as WSU went only 10-19 when Kelvin Sampson was in the midst of his program rebuild, but Quinnett was an obvious bright spot. He was viewed as a bit of a shooting specialist in the NBA, but the Cheney native was inconsistent from deep and he struggled with injury throughout his career. He played about two and a half seasons before falling out of the league.

A Draught Ends

After Quinnett in ‘89, WSU did not produce a draft pick for seven years. Quinnett was drafted in the first year of the modern, two-round draft, but it hurt WSU aside from that. However, in 1996, WSU managed to produce another draft pick in Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson was a part of the historic 1996 Draft class. Hendrickson was a skilled inside scorer, but the defense held him back a little bit in the NBA. He played four seasons in the NBA and never averaged more than 18 minutes a game and he battled injuries throughout his career.

WSU did produce another pro, albeit not one who was drafted or stuck much in the league. Ike Fontaine was an electric scorer at WSU and he found himself in the NBA for 6 games during the 2001-02 season. He played for the Memphis Grizzlies and couldn’t score efficiently at the NBA level.

The Bennett Boys

Tony Bennett’s tenure at WSU was a short but memorable one. He spent only three years as the head coach here, but he made two tournament appearances and produced a pair of NBA players, including a drafted and undrafted player. Kyle Weaver was drafted 38th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, and his game seemed a bit before his time. The point-forward, defense first was not as common an archetype in the mid-2000s as it is now, and it’s hard not to wonder if he could’ve stuck should he have come through the prospect ranks in 2023. Weaver was a great wing defender on and off the ball, and he could playmake for others as well as get downhill to score. He spent three seasons in the NBA where he actually shot better than expected from deep but couldn’t quite put it all together and score with enough volume to stick in the NBA.

Aron Baynes is the other pro to come from the Bennett era, and one of the most successful Coug pros at that. His path was a bit untraditional, as he went undrafted in 2009 and played in Europe for four years. His play with Union Olimpija in the ABA and the Euroleague got him noticed by the Spurs. He came back to the United States and won a championship in his second season as the third big for San Antonio. He was arguably playing his best basketball in the NBA with Phoenix and Toronto before suffering a devastating injury while playing with the Australian National team. He has since recovered and began playing in the NBL. All told, Baynes played 9 seasons in the NBA and built a successful career as an undrafted player.

Klay Thompson

The Ken Bone era, which was then followed by the Ernie Kent era, did not have a ton of bright spots. However, one obvious one is Klay Thompson. Thompson is, unequivocally, the greatest player in WSU basketball history in terms of the totality of his career. He is a four time champ, one of the greatest shooters of all time, and his personality makes him one of the most easy to like players in the league. My question about Thompson is this:

Is he the best WSU professional player in any sport ever?

Anyways, that’s probably enough on Klay because we all know his story. The number 1 is in the rafters for a reason.

Some Bright Spots, Lots of Pain

WSU failed to produce another draftee until 2020. In 2019, Robert Franks got some looks, but ultimately went undrafted and only really played in the NBA as a hardship player during COVID. He was a great Coug but he was surrounded by a mess of a team and his pro career has seen him be a solid player in Australia, Israel, and the G-League.

CJ Elleby and Malachi Flynn shared a draft in 2020, but they did not share the court at WSU. Kent’s greatest recruiting win remains Flynn, and his greatest recruiting loss is also Flynn. He was, arguably, a top 5 player in college basketball in 2020 and he led a San Diego State team that was poised for a huge tourney run before COVID cancelled March. Flynn was drafted at 29 to the Raptors, a team that no longer plays point guards, and his career has been a series of starts and stops, but he is a year away from restricted free agency and his skillset is still theoretically valuable.

Elleby was the 46th pick to the Portland Trailblazers and he has since fallen out of the league. He played two seasons with the Blazers where the defense looked great, but the scoring couldn’t come close to the efficiency thresholds. He played a year in the G-League and now plays in Israel, where he hopes to make a comeback to the NBA in time.

2023 Draft Day

WSU has an exciting draft day again for the first time since 2020. Justin Powell, Mouhamed Gueye, and Efe Abogidi are all in this year’s class and all of them could hear their names called by Adam Silver or Mark Tatum.

Powell is not someone that many thought would be a draft pick during the year, but the backend of the 2023 draft has lost a lot of talent to NIL and the COVID eligibility year. Powell has fans in the league thanks to his solid size, legit outside shooting, and sound decision-making. His defense also impressed scouts I talked to and there are quite a few teams that could use a player like him. While he was frustrating as WSU’s “PG” this year, he makes intuitive sense as an off-guard in the NBA. I expect him to get drafted past 50 or fall to undrafted free agency, but either way he likely ends the week with a two-way contract (a contract that lets a team keep a player’s rights but is only guaranteed for half of the league minimum and only allows them to be active for half of the team’s game) from a team.

Gueye is almost certain to get drafted unless he doesn’t want to. The question is whether or not he is going to get a standard, three-year contract or be forced to sign a two-way. If a two-way is the only option, he could opt to go undrafted on purpose in order to have more control over which team he gets to play for. He’s more of an upside swing, as the defense is really questionable from a big man and his versatility will depend entirely on his ability to hit shots. Still, if he hits, he could offer a nice change of pace at the 5 or a solid 3-and-D look at the 4.

Abogidi is worth mentioning because he was a Coug, and he looked good in his limited time in the G-League, but all reports are that the knee is jelly and he might not be able to play NBA minutes at all. Still, it’s impossible not to root for Abogidi and his future in the league could be the brightest of these three if he is healthy. There is a chance he sees himself drafted in the final 15 picks of the draft.