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Report: CJ Elleby withdraws from NBA Draft to return to WSU

The move was expected, but still a relief.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As expected, Washington State Cougars forward CJ Elleby has withdrawn from the NBA Draft, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

Elleby, who will be a sophomore, had an excellent first season by most any measure; he averaged 14.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3 assists on his way to being named to the Pac-12’s all-freshman team and setting WSU’s all-time record for scoring by a freshman. However, after traveling around the country for workouts with NBA teams over the past month, he was never projected by media experts to be selected in June’s draft.

Rules instituted in the past few years allowed any college player to declare for the NBA Draft and even hire an agent to navigate the process but return to school without penalty if they withdrew from the draft before a late-May deadline and terminated the relationship with the agent. This has led to many, many players around the country declaring for the draft, with most returning to school; you might remember Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu and Conor Clifford all doing the same when the rule changed.

This is pretty massive news for the prospects of next year’s team, and you can bet that new WSU coach Kyle Smith had a little celebration when Elleby’s return to school was confirmed. The 6-foot-6 guard/forward is precisely the kind of player Smith covets — a “six-tool player” who can do just about anything on the floor offensively. He’s also a versatile defender with a high motor who should become even more effective under Smith’s tutelage.

And there’s definitely room to grow: Elleby finished with an offensive rating of just 98.7 overall, and it dipped to 96.7 in conference play (that’s points produced per 100 possessions; something around 104 would have been average). In particular, his 2-point shooting really tailed off and the turnovers increased. But he’s already an elite rebounder for his size, and a more-than-adequate passer when he’s not being loose with the ball. He’ll almost certainly be the focal point of the offense next season.

Will WSU have him beyond that? It’s tough to say, as we’re almost certain to go through this process again after next season — there’s no limit to the number of times a player can declare. And while Elleby was never considered a serious candidate to get drafted this year, he did work out for multiple teams and get invited to the G-League combine, which indicates there was at least some level of curiosity on the part of NBA scouts. He certainly appears to be on a path to realizing his dream of joining Klay Thompson and Aron Baynes in the league.

As for WSU, the only decisions Smith is still waiting on are from Ahmed Ali and Nigel John.

Ali, who is 5-foot-11 and started 24 games for Ernie Kent last season at point guard, had put his name in the NCAA transfer portal; however, a source indicated to us that Ali is still considering a return to the school.

The source said the same applies to John, a 6-foot-10 big man with lots of raw athletic talent who signed with Kent back in November. Neither has given any public indication of their decision, but it was reported late last week that new Pittsburgh Panthers coach Jeff Capel had offered John, and another report indicated he’s working on setting up an official visit.

While the presence of Elleby and center Jeff Pollard will give the roster a familiar feel, you’re going to have lots and lots of new faces to get acquainted with: There will be at least seven newcomers on the 13-man roster, as Smith has signed a mix of experienced and inexperienced players. Deion James (a grad transfer from Colorado State) and junior college transfers Daron Henson and Isaac Bonton (the former of whom originally signed an LOI with Ernie Kent) should contribute right away. There also are four freshmen — Seattle-area point guard (and WSU legacy) Noah Williams, Ukrainian big man Volodymyr Markovetskyy, Australian guard Ryan Rapp, and Southern Californian wing DJ Rodman.