GRIZ GRIT: Ehlo to Eastern

By Beacon Staff

You’ve probably seen the video several hundred times.

With the advent of replay and superstar highlights, just about every time something about Michael Jordan pops up on your television screen you can count on Craig Ehlo being part of the picture.

It was the former Washington State University star, then a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who’s immortalized in the classic step-in, step-back, up-fake, game-winning shot by Jordan in Cleveland as Ehlo flew by in vain that propelled the Bulls into the second round of the 1989 NBA playoffs.

And now the Texas transplant is a part of the Big Sky Conference, joining the staff as an assistant coach at Eastern Washington University.

While Ehlo is often mentioned in the Jordan clip, it should still be just a blip on his long legacy. He enjoyed an outstanding 14-year pro career after playing for the Cougars in some of the glory days of WSU basketball under George Raveling.

The 6-foot-6-inch Ehlo led the Cougs to a rare NCAA Championship victory over Weber State in 1983 before being eliminated by the Ralph Sampson-led Virginia squad in the following round.

Just after I left the Spokesman-Review and shortly before I came to Missoula, a buddy and I often made the drive from Spokane to Pullman on a snowy day to catch a Thursday or Saturday game at Jack Friel Court, where Raveling-led teams with players like Ehlo and Don Collins often pulled monstrous upsets.

Ehlo, who has been coaching at Rogers High School in Spokane the last three years and providing some television color analysis on Gonzaga University basketball, will bring a break-neck style to the floor with the Eagles.

Raveling once described his play in Washington State Magazine as “on the ragged edge of being out of control,” but the third-round NBA draft pick will bring instant credibility to the Cheney campus and the staff of new coach Jim Hayford.

Inducted in 2002 to the inaugural class of the Pacific-10 Conference Hall of Honor with such names as John Wooden, Gary Payton, Bill Sharman and Sean Elliot, Ehlo scored almost 7,500 points, grabbed more than 3,100 rebounds and had close to 1,000 steals while playing for Houston, Atlanta and Seattle – in addition to his six-year tenure in Cleveland.

With his size – and he might be a bit shorter than he’s listed – and slim frame, Ehlo simply was an over achiever who put it all out on the court. If his gambles went awry, he gambled again. And he could shoot the rock.

That fits the way the Eagles have played in Cheney for years. But like many teams, they choose a bit more conservative style on the road.

With his background, Ehlo should be an attractive recruiter and the sophomore-laden Eagles weren’t far out of it last season – handing Montana a conference-season ending loss to prevent the Grizzlies from hosting the league tournament.

But that wasn’t enough to save Kirk Earlywine, whose release opened the door for Hayford, who had a tremendous head coaching career at Whitworth College with several appearances in the NAIA National Championship.

It’s always “game on” 12 months of the year in collegiate athletics, as this time of year every team is trying to get bigger and quicker and attract better personnel. And there are just no givens.

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