If you’ve watched even a moment of Washington State hoops this season, he’s hard to miss. A skillset equally noticeable as his hair, the Cleveland High School (Seattle) product does just about everything one would fill a stat sheet with.
“I’ve been coaching CJ since about the third grade,” Cleveland’s head man Jerry Petty told CSN. “He doesn’t cry as much,” he added with a laugh.
CJ Elleby has been a star for the Cougars in non-conference play averaging over 30 minutes a game for 15.6 points and 7.5 rebounds. In fact, he’s already drawn comparisons to WSU legend Klay Thompson in terms of raw talent.
Evidently, college recruiters didn’t get the memo. For some reason, the true freshman was largely undervalued coming out of high school.
“Some mid-majors were after him, and Washington came up to talk to him. I thought it should have been a lot more. He kinda had a chip on his shoulder from people not realizing how good he was and how effective he was as a player,” Petty said. “You can’t teach six-foot-seven.”
It seemed CJ – son of Bill Elleby, a two-time Garfield High School state champion and California Golden Bear (1988-92) – had some big shoes to fill. And while the conference has since changed, the goal never did.
“He really wanted to play in the Pac-12,” Petty added.
Washington didn’t pursue CJ actively as they should have, but the Huskies were very much in the mix with outside interest given by Big Sky and West Coast Conference programs. But of course, the recruting battle tipped crimson thanks to a few factors.
The most notable of which resides in Washington State assistant coach Ed Haskins. He and CJ stood on opposing Metro League sidelines for three years while Haksins served as the head man at Garfield.
“He played four years on varsity for me and every year he had more and more responsibility. By the time his junior year came, he was pretty much the man on our team, but people were still unsure of him.” Petty said.
“We played a really talented Garfield team… I mean, they were a juggernaut, and CJ scored 33 points and 18 rebounds. We had a real chance to win that game.”
Flashing a preposterous 213-34 record over nine years with the Bulldogs, a performance like that was not lost on Haskins. He was well aware of CJ’s value once joining forced with Ernie Kent and Cougars just a season later in 2017. And needless to say, CJ made himself hard to forget
“I’ve known his family forever and I’ve known CJ since he was in the fourth or fifth grade,” Coach Haskins said. “I remembered him having 30 points on us. We played them four times that year… They never beat us”
In fact, Cleveland never beat Garfield during CJ’s time as an Eagle. A piece of history you can imagine the 185-pound forward wishes he could change.
“I recruited him, number one, because he was the second best player in Seattle. I felt like the reason why I came here was to get Seattle back over to Pullman,” Haskins said. “He was definitely a high priority for me when I came here.”
While Kevin Porter Jr. (USC) was stealing all the Metro League headlines, CJ was quietly scoring 25 a night while averaging a double-double. But ironically enough, both were – and still remain – close friends.
Off the court, CJ is described as laid back more often than not. Petty was quick to remind CSN he’s not only a good student, but someone a coach never has to worry about.
“He’s a competitor. He wants to compete at the highest level, and he doesn’t like losing at all. That’s what keeps his competitive edge going. He’s definitely a team player, but he expects everyone around him to have the same kind of work ethic that he has… If you’re trying to turn a program around, that’s the kid you start with.”Jerry Petty
Rounding off the non-conference schedule with a 7-6 record, fans can expect a lot of “competitive edge” as WSU hasn’t finished a Pac-12 schedule at or above .500 since the 2010-11 Thompson days. Many suspect CJ Elleby could lead the charge that changes that.
“I call him the 206 Warrior. He never stops competing, and that’s the best thing about him. I think the sky is his limit,” Haskins said.
“This is one of those kids that you just root for, and we’re extremely proud of him,” Petty concluded. “He’s a humble and enjoyable kid. I hope you guys enjoy him.”