CJ Elleby made another piece of Washington State Cougars basketball history on Wednesday night when the Portland Trail Blazers selected him in the 2020 NBA Draft with the 16th pick in the second round — 46th overall.
Elleby is the first Coug to be drafted since Klay Thompson went to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2011 draft.
The Trail Blazers must have really liked something in Elleby’s game, because most draft experts had him pegged outside their top 60. Portland is getting a versatile — and fearless — player who has a silky stroke from the perimeter and is a tenacious defender and rebounder. He seems to fit the now-traditional 3-and-D NBA role, which should give him a chance to carve out an immediate role with the team, but given Elleby’s development arc and belief in himself, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him eventually become more than that in The League.
Or maybe the Blazers fell in love with his determination and tenacity — two qualities which allowed a under-recruited player from Seattle, of all places, to walk into a Pac-12 school like he owned the place ... which he soon did.
“He gets excited like no one to compete on game night. It’s a joy for him,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “I don’t know if that’s his process or what, but I told all the NBA guys that’s what makes him special.
“Patty Mills had that same quality, but he’s maybe not as talented as CJ. But Patty has NBA speed and NBA belief. He thought he belonged out there, and CJ is the same way. He is not scared. He’s going to play fearless. That’s an incredible quality that you can’t teach.”
Elleby declared for the draft shortly after this past season, intending to test the waters as he had after his freshman season. As workouts became impossible because of COVID, uncertainty also swirled around the upcoming college basketball season, and Elleby elected to keep his name in the draft and forego his final two seasons.
He had a stellar, if brief, career in two years at WSU. A three-star recruit out of Cleveland High School in Seattle, Elleby arrived with little fanfare but soon made his presence known. He was a starter from day one under Ernie Kent, immediately becoming the team’s second option next to Robert Franks as a versatile scorer, rebounder and defender. It led to him being named to the Pac-12 all-freshman team after averaging 14.7 points and 7.1 rebounds.
He built on it last year under Smith, becoming the team’s undisputed talisman, averaging 18.4 points and 7.8 rebounds with 1.9 assists and 1.8 steals. He topped 20 points 18 times and 30 points twice — dropping 34 on the Washington Huskies in a 79-67 win in Pullman (the first of two wins over UW last season) ...
... and scoring 30 against the Colorado Buffaloes in an 82-68 win in the Pac-12 tournament (the school’s first in the contest in 11 seasons).
He also provided the singular highlight of the year, hitting a 3-pointer in the waning moments to power the Cougs to a win over the Arizona State Sun Devils:
The Cougs won more games than they had in nearly a decade and Elleby was honored as an All-Pac-12 first teamer. His 589 points were the eighth most in a WSU season, and he led the team in scoring, rebounding, steals, and blocks — the only player in program history to lead the team in all four categories in a single season.
Elleby finished his career with 1,060 points, becoming the third-fastest player in program history to reach 1,000 points.
In other Cougar-adjacent draft news, former WSU point guard Malachi Flynn was drafted near the end of the first round by the Toronto Raptors, No. 29 overall.
Recruited to WSU by former assistant Curtis Allen, Flynn played two seasons for Kent before transferring out in 2018 after averaging 13 points and 3.6 assists. He landed with the San Diego State Aztecs, where he played just one season after sitting out a year, but he blossomed into a second team All-American, leading SDSU to a 30-2 record that would have seen them land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, had it not been cancelled amidst the pandemic.