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Washington State freshman CJ Elleby declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent immediately

UPDATED: Fri., March 29, 2019, 7:37 p.m.

Washington State forward CJ Elleby  walks on the court during the second half of the Cougars’ March 6 game  against Oregon in Pullman. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)
Washington State forward CJ Elleby walks on the court during the second half of the Cougars’ March 6 game against Oregon in Pullman. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

CJ Elleby will declare for the NBA draft, but the Washington State freshman won’t immediately hire an agent, leaving him the option to return for a sophomore season with the Cougars and new head coach Kyle Smith.

ESPN first reported Elleby’s intentions to declare, receiving a lengthy statement from the forward who played in all 32 games as a rookie and ranked second on the Cougars in scoring.

In a text message to ESPN, Elleby wrote: “My plan is to chase my dream of playing professionally in the NBA. To showcase my talent at the workouts I attend and to potentially be drafted. Also to be able to experience entering my name and testing the water and receiving necessary feedback. I will use the new NCAA rule allowing me to have representation while maintaining my college eligibility.”

The 6-foot-6 Elleby scored 14.7 points per game in 2018-19, led the Cougars with 28 starts and was one of five players named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team. Elleby’s scoring average ranked 10th in the conference and his rebounding average (7.1) per game was 11th.

Statistically speaking, Elleby had the best freshman season in program history, breaking Steve Puidokas’ rookie scoring record with 471 points in his 32 games. Golden State Warriors All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson scored 414 points during his freshman season on the Palouse.

“Being off the radar of most, if not all NBA scouts, my mindset was to shock a lot of people,” Elleby wrote in his statement. “… I always believed in my ability to compete at the highest of levels, and the big picture I have been focusing on is only an arm’s reach away now, as I’m declaring for the NBA Draft after one year which is such a blessing.”

Elleby also thanked Ernie Kent, who recruited the Cleveland High standout, beating out Mike Hopkins and Washington for WSU’s first 4A/3A Metro League prospect in more than five years.

Kent was fired by the university on March 14, one day after WSU’s 33-point loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Cougars announced the hire of Smith, formerly head coach at San Francisco, on Wednesday.

Despite his freshman numbers, Elleby isn’t considered to be someone who’ll be selected in the NBA Draft on June 20. Senior teammate Robert Franks led the Pac-12 in scoring this season and is only considered a fringe draft prospect.

But Elleby will still gain valuable feedback and evaluation from NBA scouts by going through the predraft process – intel that proved useful for Franks after the 6-8 forward declared without an agent prior to his senior year in Pullman. Other Cougars players, including Josh Hawkinson, Conor Clifford and Ike Ioregbu, all did the same, each choosing to return for their final year of eligibility.

Elleby has until June 1 to withdraw his name from the draft pool. If he chooses not to, the Cougars could be in a real bind during Smith’s first season at the helm, potentially losing five of their top seven scorers.

Franks and Elleby combined for more than 36 points per game in 2018-19. Viont’e Daniels and Davante Cooper are graduating, and juniors Carter Skaggs and Jeff Pollard have entered their names into the NCAA’s transfer portal.

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