T.J. Leaf: Junior Primer

A steady stream of offense long has defined the game of T.J. Leaf, so much so that he attracted multiple high-major offers very early in his career and already has committed to Arizona.

How he got here

A the 2013 Elite 100, power forward T.J. Leaf established himself one of the better frontcourt prospects in the Class of 2016. He clearly had work to do but more than held his own, and the rising sophomore set about enhancing his status from there.

He continued to build momentum that summer. By mid-July, halfway through the live evaluation period, Leaf had drawn offers from Arizona, UCLA, Arizona State, San Diego State and USC. His blue-chip status thus had become confirmed by the people best situated to confirm it.

Leaf resided in four star territory heading into his sophomore season, but he quickly served notice that he was a star shy of his accurate ability level. Indiana and Cal stepped in with offers, and thus he entered the 2014 travel season as one of the more offers-credentialed players in the class.

Leaf competes with a consistent, focused style

He hit the road with the Compton Magic and competed against the Adidas circuit. Leaf enjoyed some outstanding moments both in Indianapolis and central Florida that spring, showcasing excellent skill and savvy at 6-10. His overall numbers included 16 points per game in 16 total contests through the summer, and he added six rebounds per game.

By last fall, he’d narrowed his list to Arizona, Duke, Florida, Michigan and UCLA. He then announced for Sean Miller’s Wildcats and gave the program yet another elite big man.

His junior season has featured some spectacular performances. He went for 33 points in one game at the Tark Classic, showcasing improved mobility and leaping ability.

Not only did Leaf earn his fifth star, he catapulted into our top 10 and will be one of the country’s most celebrated seniors next year.

To 2015. …

Maintaining top-10 status always looms as a challenging proposition, but particularly so in the loaded top echelon of the 2016 class. Leaf, therefore, will have to demonstrate continued dominance and new wrinkles just to retain his status.

His ranking ultimately won’t matter, but clearly we’ll all chart his progress closely. As a committed, elite prospect, Leaf will be judged by a very precise set of criteria for the duration of his prep career.

Thankfully, he appears up to the assignment. Leaf is 6-10 and possesses great hands, two traits that can keep a basketball employed for a very long time. Moreover, his hands also are a key factor in his ability to face the rim and bury facing jump shots.

He’s able to score with his back to the basket far more effectively than most of his peers, yet he’s also able to play the modern, face-up style for a power forward. Leaf shot 34 percent on threes last year with the Compton Magic, certainly a respectable rate of accuracy, and his touch around the rim also impresses. And inside, he delivers with very smooth jump hooks with eight-foot range.

His next step will be to utilize his improved mobility and leap to become more physical and effective as a rebounder and defender. Leaf carries a sturdy frame — at least 205 pounds — so with time he should improve in those areas naturally. Still, even right now he’s capable of more than six boards per contest. He also blocked less than one shot per game with the Magic.

Elsewhere, he shot a surprising 68 percent on foul shots, but with repetition, his touch should enable him to hit a much higher percentage.

In addition to his scoring, Leaf is a fine passer from the high post whom the Wildcats will be able to deploy at the foul line area, three-point distance or exclusively in the post. He should complement the team’s other pieces well, whatever they may be, and he should excel versus a diverse array of opponents and individual matchups.

Leaf is a top-10 prospect for good reason, and he projects as a key cog for a national-level collegiate program.

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