In-Depth Interview with T.J. Leaf

AUG. 28 --2016 five-star power forward T.J. Leaf breaks down his recruitment...

How’s your summer been going?

T.J. Leaf: I think it’s been going great as a whole, it’s been super busy and super competitive as well and it’s been a lot of fun and I accomplished a lot as well.

What was the USA Basketball experience like for you?

That was great, it was super competitive and I felt like it was even more competitive than the last time I was there. There were so many great players there in that setting and it was great experience even making the first cut. It was even more competitive the last couple of days after that first cut.

What do you think you learned about yourself during that camp?

I just think I learned that, at that level, you have to bring it every single time you are out on the court, you just can’t not bring it in every practice and you can’t have an off day in the practices. You have to give it your all the entire time.

How do you think your game grew this spring/summer?

I think I got a lot better in many areas. I think I got a lot stronger for one and I’m working hard at getting even stronger right now. It may not look it, but I’m definitely getting a lot stronger physically right now. I think my wing skills definitely developed a lot more this summer, I’m starting to get a more consistent jump shot as well and my dribbling and my passing are coming along too.

What kind of things are you doing from a workout and skill development perspective?

A lot of wing stuff, shooting, just a lot of transition dribbling. Working on going through contact and just make one move to get into scoring position, a lot of wing type stuff.

What kind of you role do you envision for yourself in college?

Someone who runs the floor very well, I think I can play a main role on a team but I’m also very unselfish and one who looks to help the team a lot, especially at the collegiate level with everybody being really good and at an elite level, if you are unselfish, that can really help your team out a lot. I think I can play a main role on the team, scoring, rebounding, passing, I can do everything.

Have you received in detail from the college coaches recruiting you what their vision is for you as a player if you were to go to their school?

Yeah I have. A lot of them think I’m a three-four or a four-three in their systems, someone who can knock down a lot of shots and can get out in transition and get some buckets. Someone who can rebound as well and someone who can make his teammates better by what I do including shooting and passing and stuff like that.

From watching the programs that are seriously recruiting you TJ, can you point to players they have that are either similar to you as a player or who did some things that you do on the court?

Yeah there has been, I don’t think there’s anybody that’s perfectly identical to me as a player because obviously everybody is different as a player. I think there’s been some guys who have done some similar things for sure. I feel like Aaron Gordon a little bit, he kinda got the defensive rebound, ran up the floor and kinda did his own thing and was able to bring the ball up. Guys like Kyle Singler or Chandler Parsons, I feel both of those guys too, they could shoot it and they could both facilitate real well. I feel like those three guys are similar to me.

Singler has been out of school for a few years now, didn’t realize you were watching Duke that far back…

Oh yeah definitely, I’ve been watching since I was born.

What got you into watching Duke at such an early age?

Really I was just watching everyone, me and my family, but it was just always on. I don’t even know, Duke was always on television and with them being one of the best teams in the country, they were just on what we watched. Growing up, I definitely, it was almost like Duke was just too good, like I thought I’d never even have that opportunity.

Never have the opportunity?

Well, they are just such a prestigious program, when I was younger I really wasn’t too good, and I kinda developed a little quicker once I grew a lot and I already had guard skills and then it just all kinda came. I just didn’t think I was going to be at that level when I was younger.

Now that you have the Duke offer and strong interest from them, how do you feel about that in light of your past feelings?

It’s kinda like, it’s great, they are a great program and I feel like I fit in just as well with them as anybody in the country. They use guys just how I want to be used and Coach K gives them freedom too and I really like that. It’s almost like, it’s not really a dream school but it’s a dream come true school still.

What makes them a dream come true school for you still?

I don’t know, it’s Duke you know ? That’s all I really know what to say and everybody, I just feel like they are the Mecca of college basketball.

What’s your thought process towards what the Duke staff has presented to you during the course of the course of their recruitment of you?

It’s really good, I really like their coaches there and I feel like they do a really good job recruiting me and telling me about the position or role Id be playing there. I’m really looking forward to getting down there for their Midnight Madness and checking it out. I feel like they are doing a really great job of recruiting me.

How did the Midnight Madness visit get setup with Duke—what was the process?

I was already wanting to come visit even before I received the offer to just check it out. Once they offered me, they got to see me even more obviously and they really liked my game and they really wanted me to come out there and I was already wanting to come out there to visit, so they just invited me to come and it’s kinda hard to say no to them, it’s going to be pretty fun. I think my mom and my dad will be coming with me.

What has your parents shared with you about their thoughts about Duke and upcoming visit?

It’s just going to be a great experience to get to go to the campus there and see everything and to talk with the coaches. I’m really interested in the atmosphere as well and I’m sure they are too, just with the atmosphere of Midnight Madness and what it’s going to feel like there with just how crazy people are about basketball.

Do you guys have any unanswered questions about Duke that you will look to get answers to from the Duke staff once you are on campus?

I don’t know about unanswered questions, I’m just curious to talk with them again about how they are going to play me. They have told me I’d be a stretch four, someone who can get the rebound and go all the way or facilitate it. I really like that, I like how Coach K uses a lot of his forwards in general. Even guys like Jabari who were able to play the four but be able to go out on the wing and shoot 3s and being able to go inside and stuff like that.

Once you complete your visit schedule for this fall that you already have setup, do you feel like you need to take more visits before you narrow it down and proceed to decision time?

Honestly I’m not even sure, at this point I feel like these visits will be a really good gauge on what I should do and I feel like I want to get my process done with before April. If I feel like I need to take more visits then I will, but at this point I’m not even really sure.

As you discussing with your parents how you feel about the programs recruiting you—what are the main discussion points?

I think it’s not only the coaching staff in general but also the head coach, especially if they keep in contact with you and who is always coming around the gym and stuff like that. I feel like this coming September and after that will be a really good gauge on what coaches are coming to the gym or coming to the school just to talk and stuff like that, that’s probably what we’re talking about the most. We’re really looking at just how much the coaching staff and the head coaches want me to come to their school.

Who has been making a concerted effort coaches wise to stay in close communication with you and your family over the past month or two TJ?

Arizona has done a really great job with that, I talk to Coach Miller and the assistants quite a bit. Florida I talk with Coach Donovan and his assistant quite a bit, just as much as everybody else. Duke with Coach Scheyer, Xavier-I talk to them probably more than anyone I’d say. There’s quite a bit of schools, UCLA, San Diego State, Texas, Iowa, they do a good job too staying in contact.

How long have Arizona and Florida been there in your recruiting process?

Arizona is definitely a veteran in my recruiting process, they offered me back in December and they pretty much kept in contact with me ever since and they also have kept in contact with my dad and my coach too. Florida I picked up that offer about 2 months ago so I think they are kinda new but they have kept in contact as well, really good contact. They call and I text with them a lot.

For you, how do you compare and contrast schools like Florida and Duke who have submitted newer offers to a school like Arizona who has been involved in your recruitment for a longer period of time and has had the offer on the table for longer?

I really don’t think it matters to me if they were there for a longer time, Florida and Duke didn’t get to see me, they pretty much didn’t offer me until they were able to see me. Just whatever schools where I could have a good fit and somewhere where I could go in and get playing time as a freshman.

Do you have any potential playing time concerns with any of the schools recruiting with your desire to play as a freshman?

I don’t think so at this point, no.

Since you evaluating schools partially based on playing time opportunities, how much are you paying attention to schools’ potential recruiting classes both in the class ahead of you and your class?

I definitely am paying attention to the class ahead of me, that’s a big deal but my class after that, I’m just going to worry about me since I’m likely to be one of the earlier commitments in my class, that’s what the plan is but I’m not going to rush anything. I’m not worried about that as much.

With the 2015 class, how much information do you have about the schools you are seriously considering and how their recruiting classes are shaping up?

You always look up stuff online but I’ve also talked with coaches at a couple of schools about their recruiting classes in ’15 and if they have any scholarships left and guys they are still recruiting at my position in the ’15 class. Those things are really what I’m looking at.

Do you have any schools that you are considering that really excite you with what their roster could be when you are going to be there and what’s been said to you?

I think there’s a couple of schools that excite me about their potential roster situation. I feel like UCLA will have a really good roster for coming in and potentially having a major role when I come in as a freshman. I think Florida as well, I don’t think they overall have anybody like me at my position, even in the 2015 class, so I think that would be a good role.

Even Duke, you have to play that out because they aren’t done with their 2015 class yet, but even now it looks good. Arizona as well, they probably are going to be having a lot of guys go into the Draft next year, then it’ll just be my class pretty much because they pretty much have the 2015 class done with three guards who are very talented. So I feel like those schools excite me with their rosters.

So is it more exciting for you with those schools from a roster perspective that you are able to see a clear role for yourself and potential for early playing time, or is your excitement more grounded in the overall potential depth of talent on the roster when you are projected to be there?

I think it’s both, if you can get it in and get a good spot right away if they let you have one while also having good talent around you, I don’t think you can really beat that.

Every player has their own vision on how long they potentially want to play in college for—what’s your vision at this point TJ ?

I think I do, but obviously if you are there and if you aren’t ready or you in a situation where it’s not good for you, I’m not just going to be going on what I think . I’m going to be getting advice from a lot of different people on that.

From an advice perspective now, who is playing a central role for you?

Obviously my parents, my brother he plays college basketball too so he’s helping me a lot as well and the coaches here at my high school and some good family friends.

Going back to the visit schedule, can you update me on what the firm dates are that are planned?

I’m going to Florida on October 10th for a football game that’s there. I’m going to Arizona for their intersquad game on October 18th believe and then the Duke visit on October 25, they are all kinda bunched in there.

What are your and your family’s thought process towards after the visits—what’s the next steps?

I’m not sure, I just want to get a feel, I’ve been to Arizona recently but I just want to get a feel for the atmosphere there. With the other ones, we just want to get a feel for the coaches there in person, the program, their practices there and just how they do things there. I’m not really sure if there’s a next step so to speak, just trying to get a feel for their programs. I definitely think it could be time after that to make a decision potentially, if everything kinda works out right I could definitely be ready. I’m not sure it will, but if it does work out, I could be ready.

It sounds like you feel like you won’t need a lot more additional visits after these visits in October—is that an accurate read?

Yeah I’m not sure if I do. I’m not really sure yet.

With the schools you have lined up visits to for the fall—do you consider any of them to be your favorite?

I really don’t think I have a favorite at this point. I like a lot of different schools and they are all pretty different. I don’t really think I’m leaning one particular way and I think these visits will really help me. I think I’m going to visit UCLA soon too, maybe in the next month or so.

What are your thoughts on distance with schools like Florida and Duke and others being a little farther away than schools like UCLA and Arizona?

For me it’s nothing, I just want to go where I have the best opportunity. For my parents and other people, it’s obviously a factor for them but in the long run, I really don’t think they’d mind too much provided it’s a good opportunity for me wherever I go. With my family there’s maybe a little bit of that in that they obviously couldn’t drive to see me play in certain places. As for other people that are around there’s maybe a little bit of that but overall I don’t think it’s too big a deal.

Wrapping up, is it a firm commitment for you and your family that you will take all four planned visits, or is it more a situation of you take each visit one at a time and figure things out as you go?

I think I’ll be going to all four of those. The UCLA visit isn’t scheduled yet but I’m sure I’ll be getting up there soon because it’s not very far. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to take all four of those visits regardless of how each visit goes.

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