IU “as strong as anybody else” for T.J. Leaf

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FISHERS, Ind. — T.J. Leaf is no stranger to basketball in Indiana.

His father, Brad, who is also his high school coach at Foothills Christian near San Diego, California, grew up in Indianapolis and was a standout collegiately at Evansville. And now T.J., one of the top 25 recruits nationally in the class of 2016, is a primary recruiting target for Indiana.

Leaf made three unofficial visits to Bloomington last year, including two stops for games and it’s clear that the program is squarely in the mix to become his landing spot in the fall of 2016.

Tom Crean and associate head coach Tim Buckley are leading the recruitment of Leaf with Crean making a trip to Las Vegas in December to watch Leaf and another stop at his high school last month to watch an open gym before the April evaluation period.

“They’re as strong as anybody else,” Brad Leaf said on Saturday at the adidas Gauntlet at Best Choice Fieldhouse. “He understands more and more (how important basketball is here). We watch basketball on TV a lot. There’s nothing like, in my opinion, Big Ten basketball. How many years in a row have they led the nation in attendance? He just wants to go somewhere that they’re passionate about basketball.”

“In my opinion (the Big Ten) is definitely the best conference in the country hands down,” T.J. Leaf said. “To play in that would be great. All my family is from back here so it’s almost like coming back home a bit too.”

Speaking to reporters following a loss for Compton Magic, Leaf’s AAU team, the 6-foot-9 rising junior stopped short of calling IU his leader while still handing out heavy praise for the Hoosiers.

“They’re obviously up there,” he said. “They are a great program, but I mean at this point I’m really not leaning anywhere. Anything that comes up would be great but I’m blessed for all the schools that are recruiting me thus far.”

With the versatility to play a variety of positions, it’s no surprise that Leaf has become the subject of an intense recruiting battle between major programs like IU, Michigan, UCLA and Arizona.

The Wolverines are the only program of the four that haven’t offered a scholarship — that’s expected to happen on June 15 — but Michigan will get a shot at improving its standing with Leaf when he’s on campus Monday for an unofficial visit.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing the program,” Leaf said. “Talking to the coaches a little bit, going around campus and seeing where I fit in there.”

Brad Leaf noted that he believes his son, who averaged 26.5 points, 12.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 3.8 blocks and 2.0 steals per game as a sophomore, could play a variety of positions in college, which is a reason they’re taking a close look at Michigan.

“He (T.J.) likes the versatility of how they play their players at the 2, 3 and 4,” Brad Leaf said.

Closer to his home, Leaf is also a target for Arizona, a perennial power in the PAC-12 and UCLA, which is entering its second season under Steve Alford. Both programs have prioritized Leaf. He’s taken unofficial visits to UCLA, but has yet to see Tucson.

“They are powerhouses. I like the way they are recruiting me,” Leaf said. “I’m just a big fan of both, how they play, how they run, how the coaches let the wing players play.”

Leaf said he isn’t sure if his parents would move to the midwest if he chooses to play at a Big Ten school, but he’s definitely come away impressed with what he’s seen from the league and the midwest in general from a fan support perspective.

“Basketball is a lot crazier out here than it is on the West coast,” he said. “Every gym is packed and people want to watch basketball. On the West coast it’s a bit different, sometimes you don’t get full arenas. It’s definitely basketball fever.

“The atmosphere here is just a level above out there. Compared to the other schools on the west coast, yeah, it’s pretty crazy out here.”

(Photo credit: adidas)

  • http://www.insidethehall.com/ Travis Sliger

    Said it numerous times and I’ll say it again: this kid is a program changer. He’s right up there with Cody Zeller. I actually think he’s going to be better. Special special talent. At the very top of my want list. We have a dog fight on our hands for him though.

  • jmac

    Hope we get him! Doubt we get him!

  • marcusgresham

    I would not complain if Coach Kenny’s spot was taken by Brad Leaf.

    If he’s been to Bloomington 3 times in one year from California I’d say he’s looking for a reason not to pick IU at this point. That’s a long way to travel if you aren’t seriously interested.

    Off topic a bit here, but what does anyone know about Chance Coyle, who will be a freshman at Bloomington South this year? I hear he’s supposed to be a stud. I went to USI with his dad, Neil, who is the nicest person you’ll ever meet, so I’m rooting for the kid.

  • Hoosier Hall

    If I’m thinking of the same guy, didn’t Neil used to coach West Washington? We used to play them all the time. Haven’t seen anything on Chance yet but Neil is a big guy and I heard he was pretty good back in the day.

  • Hoosier Hall

    I hope we land this guy for multiple reasons. One, he is definitely a game changer and number 2, it could open up some recruiting out west for us. California is loaded with talent and we should definitely be digging around out there. Love the way this kid plays. Extreme versatility and all around play.

  • marcusgresham

    Yep, same guy. He played at Dub-Dub, too. He’s 6’8″. I think I heard Chance is around 6’2″.

  • KmanCRK

    Leaf seems to remind me a lot of Jared Jeffries and he would definitely be a game changer. This kid will be an absolute stud. Crean needs to own this kid for the next 18 months.

  • IUMIKE1

    Ah, the ole Bruce Pearl hey days at USI. You are right about Neil being a really nice guy. He done a whole lot of things behind the scenes to help the kids that hardly anyone knows about cause he didn’t go around tooting his own horn about doing those things. He didn’t just help the kids at Dub-Dub either. He played a major role (way more of a role than the kid’s actual coach did sadly) in a kid from one of the other county schools not only receiving a scholly, but having a choice of places, and it was the only way the kid was going to get a college education. Thanks to Neil he now has a college degree and a job in his field. It has been a few years but I know when I was coaching AAU Neil was doing some of the coaching on his son’s teams and they were playing in some of the younger divisions (basically elementary level) at some of the same tournaments. I know when he was coaching at W Washington he took his high school team to a semi-closed camp at UT when Pearl was the coach there and I’m pretty sure Chance made that trip each year with the high school team. I had a chance to see him play a little bit at some of the AAU sites and while it’s hard to tell at that young of an age how good they will be in high school, it was obvious that he was a step or two ahead of most, if not all, of the other kids. I think he was probably playing up an age group too and still stood out. Doubt he has regressed any and with who he has coaching him in the driveway, so to speak, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if he turned out to be a stud at Btown South. Got kinda windy there but guys like Neil so deserve to get public cred for the things they do, all the while expecting nothing in return for doing them. Will be rooting for Neil’s boy as well.

  • ForeverIU

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading your post. And people like Neil *do* get something in return: the joy of making a difference in people’s lives. As a teacher myself, I find no greater joy.

  • Kevin Tolliver

    Should be top priority in 16 class

  • http://www.insidethehall.com/ Travis Sliger

    Has anyone else went over to the UM Hoops site to see their comments regarding Leaf? Hilarious. One comment went on to say “TJ, if you want to play in the NBA, then you better avoid Indiana and play for coach Beilein.” Short memory those folks have eh? Not only have they forgotten that we send players to the draft, but they forget that we’ve OWNED Michigan. Always will.

  • PocketHoosier

    The things that impress me most about Leaf are his quick first step when driving from triple threat position, his ability to finish at the rim naturally with either hand, and his spot up outside shooting.

    Crean is the type of coach that would turn Leaf into a superstar and Leaf is the type of player that would transform the Hoosiers’ program. Tom Crean would get him into the top of the lottery as a wing.

  • PocketHoosier

    That’s not a short memory; that’s a nonexistent memory, and a puzzling conclusion. Perhaps those Michigonians are trying to distract “the kid from California” from the fact that they neighbor Canada.

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