— TJ Leaf (@leafsquad22) March 30, 2017
TJ Leaf announced his intention to declare for the NBA draft Thursday afternoon. UCLA’s freshman forward said he’ll be hiring an agent, meaning there’s no turning back.
It would have been more surprising if UCLA’s leading scorer returned, but that certainly wasn’t out of the question.
Leaf is the second freshman to announce his departure in the week since the Bruins’ season ended in the Sweet 16. He and Lonzo Ball were the primary reasons for UCLA’s dramatic turnaround from 15-17 last season to 31-5 in 2016-17. Now they’re both gone.
“It was definitely one of the hardest decisions in my life,” Leaf said. “I will always love my UCLA family so much, in particular the amazing teammates I had this past year. They are like brothers to me. This was the most fun year of basketball I’ve had in my entire life, and I will definitely miss it. But, I cannot wait to start my new journey.”
“He’s probably a lottery guy,” the NBA scout said. “But I’d like him to be tougher. He’s more of a mismatch offensively as a stretch four, but I wonder if he’d quick enough to guard a (small forward) or strong enough to guard a (power forward).”
Read the complete story about Leaf’s departure and its implications on UCLA.
Four of UCLA’s five starters are already gone – seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton are graduating – with the potential for more. Fifth starter Thomas Welsh could leave, but his freshman backup Ike Anigbogu may be more likely to capitalize on his hype and declare for the draft after one season. Sophomore point guard Aaron Holiday could also leave to join his two brothers in the NBA.
Aside from Ball, Leaf’s departure is the one would could most transform UCLA’s look. There is a significant drop off to Leaf’s backup, junior Gyorgy Goloman, a 6-foot-11 stretch four who averaged 3.7 points and 2.5 rebounds this season, but fits Steve Alford’s up tempo offense. The two power forwards in UCLA’s second-ranked recruiting class play a completely different style than Leaf.
UCLA was going to be a different team without Ball, but without Leaf the Bruins may play a different type of basketball. Their personnel simply doesn’t fit the scheme that made this season’s group the highest scoring team in the country. It was fun while it lasted, but re-creating what UCLA had with Ball and Leaf may be near impossible.