Leaf has been on the recruiting radar for a while now, but his recruitment really took off when UCLA offered him in July of 2013. At the time, Leaf only had offers from Portland and San Diego and it appeared that the Bruins would be a major factor in Leaf’s recruitment.
"Obviously UCLA is a really big school," Leaf said at the time. "I was pretty excited as soon as I heard, especially being from Southern California. My coach told me that it was a big offer and my parents were really excited. That's a pretty big offer.”
A few months later, Indiana offered Leaf with the belief that it could get him because of the large amount of family he has in Evansville.
"I have a lot of family out here, so that's always been a big plus," Leaf said. "It not at home, but it's the next best thing. And then it's a really historic program, and the coaches, I see myself just fitting in with the coaching and how they play really, really well. Everything just seems really good.”
Leaf’s recruitment continued to play out as expected with schools such as Arizona, California, and Michigan entering the picture.
In May of 2014, it appeared that the Wolverines were doing a good job with Leaf and were one of the major players.
“What we like about Michigan is that the two, three, four positions seem to be somewhat interchangeable from the way that I see it,” Leaf’s father and coach Brad said. “That’s the type of versatility that T.J. has and that’s what Michigan likes, guys that can play multiple positions. This is why we really really think Michigan is a great fit for him at this point at this time in his career.”
As highly as Leaf spoke about other schools, Arizona continued to recruit him aggressively and this past summer Leaf named the Wildcats as one of the four recruiting him the hardest along with UCLA, Indiana, and Michigan.
"I don't really care if I stay home or not," he said. "It would be a nice bonus, but going away and staying home is pretty much the same to me.
"I'm looking for coaches that will let me play multiple positions and show my versatility. I want to go to a program that will help players get better and help me get to the NBA.”
In addition, Leaf gave an indication that he would be willing to make an earlier decision than most players in his class.
"January," Leaf said. "I want to take an official or two. Maybe if something good came up and I felt it, yes, but there's no timetable.
"I'll probably commit a little early. There's no specific timetable, but I do want to get it over with.”
The picture appeared to change a bit in July when Leaf picked up a Duke offer.
“They’d be right up there, it’s a great program,” Leaf said before receiving the Duke offer. “Like I said before Coach K uses guys the way I want to be used. They would jump right up there.”
At that point, it seemed that Leaf had all of the offers he needed before making a decision and while some others continued to get attention, the forward still spoke highly of what the Arizona coaching staff was able to do.
“I am talking to Arizona a lot,” said Leaf. “I talk to Coach (Joe) Pasternack every other day if not every day, and then I also talk to Coach (Sean) Miller a lot as well, and they have a great program.”
In early August, Leaf took an unofficial visit to Arizona and it seemed to dramatically change the recruitment. The coaching staff had been doing well with him, but being able to get a closer look at the campus helped Arizona considerably.
“The coaches said they could see me as a three or a four," Leaf said. "They talked to me about my versatility and how they felt I could play numerous positions.
“I met a few of the guys and talked to them about playing here. I hung out with Stanley a bit and he is a cool dude. Obviously, he is a great player also.”
Leaf then set up unofficial visits to Florida, Arizona, and UCLA and the forward and his father had a good idea of what the decision would come down to.
“Obviously the main one is going to be style of play and how you’re going to fit in that style,” Brad Leaf stated. “I just think that is so so crucial. That and opportunity. We don’t need any promises. We just need to know there is an opportunity there. Also academics. What’s going to happen there?
“We want to feel it, experience it, and make sure when we say we’re going to go somewhere, we’re going. We’re not going to be decommitting and all that stuff.”
That’s a good thing for Arizona, as the recruitment came to an end on Wednesday and the Wildcats started their 2016 class with a five-star forward.