UCLA’s TJ Leaf is leaving for the NBA after one season


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.”

Leaf is projected as a mid-first round pick, ranging in mock drafts from 11th (NBAdraft.net) to 17th (ESPN) to 22nd (Draft Express). One NBA scout believes he isn’t getting enough credit.

“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.

  • Ed Garrett

    Its almost like some of them come here just to play basketball and leave. Tell me what college degree could any of them get in 1 year??? Something seems off.

    • j metaphor

      A Master’s in education from SoCal.

      • Ed Garrett

        But he didnt go to school there

        • j metaphor

          You make a valid point while, at the same time, completely missing the point.

      • Mr. Bruin guitar

        Haha!

  • j metaphor

    I like TJ. In fact he is one of my favorites in the last 10 years but I can’t root for him or any one-and-done. I don’t wish him ill, either, I just don’t care what he or Lonzo do other than give something back to my school for the effort. This system is killing it for me. Too mercenary, too hard to bond to a player and follow him after only one season.
    I know that’s my problem but I think it hurts the NBA as well when they don’t carry forward a college teams fans.

    • Jethro G Sabbath

      wah wah wah

      • j metaphor

        Jed,
        Probably the most eloquent comment you have ever made on either this or the SoCal site.
        #marblemouth

        • Jethro G Sabbath

          Thank you

          • j metaphor

            My pleasure

  • MPPBruin

    This will wind up being a forgotten year for the school. No regular season or conference tournament championship. The sweet 16 is nice, but it’s just not good enough for our school. Best wishes to all of the players who gave it their all, but 10 years from now I probably won’t be thinking back about this year.

  • JustOwns

    With all due respect, Leaf to the NBA is downright ludicrous.

    Leaf wasn’t a dominant player in UCLA losses vs Az, bozo u, Kentucky, and Oregon. How does he expect to compete with the better, faster, heavier, more mature upfront NBA players that are generally 3 – 4x better than the best NCAA competition?

    I wish Leaf the best of luck, because he’s going to need it. In my opinion, he would make far more money with a degree, in business, than he will reap foregoing UCLA eligibility for an early NBA shot.

    • Jae

      Taking a conservative estimate that leaf will be drafted 20th that’s a guaranteed $4 million for 3 years of work. I find it highly doubtful he will make more in even 15 years with a business degree.

      • JustOwns

        Gotta disagree, because Leaf is basically a long stick. The chance of Leaf banging 82 games with NBA forwards isn’t plausible. Any NBA team drafting Leaf, based on his UCLA career, before the 2nd round, is just plain stupid.

        I don’t know about your work experience, but most people, with families or large alimony payments, tend to work longer than 15 years.

        I think Leaf will make his BB $$$$$$$ in European pro leagues – an Albanian pro team could make good use of Leaf.

        • Jae

          All the mock drafts I’ve seen disagree with you. He’s pretty much a lock to go in round one or else he wouldn’t declare. He’s gonna get 4 million ish guaranteed. He can always go back to school later and get his business degree. It makes no sense financially for him to stay. He’s pretty much going to get paid to develop.

          And the fifteen year reference just shows how much he is going to get paid in three years in the NBA even if he busts. It’s a no brainer to take the money. He can always work after if basketball doesn’t work out.

          • JustOwns

            Not sure why, but my response dinged moderator interest.

    • Richard

      In chief, it seems, u r proffering that in the athletes best interests, kids outta be allowed to go into the NBA at any point in time the League would accept them and pay them $$$.
      And btw, can u just imagine how much fun it is to do ALL that TEDIOUS traveling required (have u ever tried to get to Wash St ??) and not earn a dime in the process.

      • JustOwns

        Basketball should be like NCAA Baseball:

        A pre-freshman can sign a Professional contract, or attend a college or University through their Jr season. Then they’re eligible for the Baseball draft. If they’re not satisfied with their draft team or selection round and didn’t hire an agent, they can return to school and complete their senior eligibility.

        Leaf has every right to explore his Pro options, and he could do that w/o hiring an agent. But since hired an agent he’s locked in and at the mercy of the crazy, speculative NBA draft.

        • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

          Well said.

        • MPPBruin

          I’m pretty much in agreement with you. I wonder if the NBA draft is different than MLB because there are fewer available players and picks. If an NBA prospect got drafted and then went back to school the team that drafted them would be totally screwed.

    • jameskatt

      As a first-round draft pick, Leaf will make a fortune as an NBA Player for years to come. If he saves and invests his money well, he will be set the rest of his life. He will probably retire at 34 years old with a net worth of at least $50 MILLION. That is hard to do with a degree in business. The NBA is his bird in the hand. Business is the bird in the bush. It is an easy choice to keep the bird in the hand.

      • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

        Especially when that bird is a goose that lays golden eggs, so to speak.

  • Mr. Bruin guitar

    I get what everyone is saying about these one and dones. It’s destroying the fabric of being a student/athlete and the credibility of a coaches true ability to coach, blah blah blah.
    So… if you were TJ Leaf, would you return, and possibly leave millions on the table, and put your dreams on the line, being just one ankle tweak or knee injury away from losing it all? Sure, getting a degree from this great university will help in the long run, but would you not admit that he can return to school if he feels like it. He may not get that opportunity in the NBA.
    If he would have returned, and he lost out on millions of dollars, would you pay him the millions he would lose out on? If you say he should come back, then I’m sure You wouldn’t mind signing a contract with the “said athlete” binding you to pay that athlete the money he would lose should something happen…even a down year. Don’t call it buying insurance, I’m placing that responsibility on those who are not only upset about his decision, but are not supportive of his decision. He is still a Bruin, and by not supporting a Bruins decision to offer his/herself an opportunity to excel at the next level shows recruits and future students a weakness in the strength of our alumni, by not offering the UCLA communities support, so should their decision not work out, or their careers should end, why would they return to UCLA to become one of those unsupportive alums of the next one and dones, when they can go somewhere else, let’s say…Suc, and get an easier degree. I wont even speak about how their alumni support each other. One more question…
    If someone offered you a job, while interning, making 80k a year, while you weren’t being paid for that internship, but you loved your internship, but you knew that internship would never pay you for the same position you are holding now, but someone else will, would you take that job???
    I’m not trying to stir a pot, I’d just like everyone to take it from an outside point of view and support these athletes and their decisions. Even though they are not yet alumni, they are Bruins, so to invite them to return and become alum would be to support their decisions to follow their dreams. Wouldn’t you prefer them return to UCLA, then transfer somewhere else at a later date, because they felt unsupported in their decisions? Thanks for being respectful.

    • j metaphor

      I agree that he is making a sound decision based upon thoughtful consideration and assessment concerning what is best for him and for his future.
      I don’t agree that he is a Bruin.

    • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

      The problem isn’t with a free man deciding to take the job of his choice; the problem is with the system that encourages the constant turnover.

      The NBA should revise is policies; if someone is talented enough, then let him go straight into the league; if not, then a few years at the college level can only help.

  • jameskatt

    Best wishes to the One-And-Dones.
    But they won’t win UCLA any NCAA Championships.
    Sweet Sixteen is the best they can do.

    • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

      Love got closer.

  • Tyler Durden

    That is what college is all about…to help one realize their dreams. If one can do that after only one year, more power to them. Go get yours TJ.

  • Coach Thom

    Why do one and dones even bother going to college? Why do they bother going to high school? Just show up at the NBA team of their choice with a basketball in their hands when they’re 14 and say “I am the greatest! Sign me up!” That would save a lot of people a world of angst.

  • Benjamin Hayes

    Everyone is talking about Leaf, but at least he showed what he can do. What about Anigbogu and Holiday? Why would an NBA team consider two people sitting on the bench of a sweet sixteen team? How does that make sense?