Q & A: 2016 five-star IU target T.J. Leaf updates his recruitment

  • 05/09/2014 7:31 am in

Back when Indiana first offered 6-foot-8 2016 forward T.J. Leaf in September 2013 during an unofficial visit, the young prospect just about to begin his sophomore year at Foothills Christian (California) High School said the offer from the Hoosiers would be “hard to say no to.”

Since then, Leaf, who is nearing 6-foot-10, has visited Bloomington twice more — on Nov. 8 for the season opener against Chicago State, and again in January for the Big Ten home opener against Michigan State.

Inside the Hall spoke with Leaf late Thursday evening, as the No. 21 prospect in the 2016 class gave an update where things stand on his recruitment and continued improvement on the court:

On his sophomore year at Foothills Christian:

High school season went well. I’m a little disappointed with the end — we lost in the semis — but it was a good year. I played pretty well all year (he averaged 26.5 points, 12.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 3.8 blocks and 2.0 steals per game) and we had a pretty tough schedule, but overall I think it was a pretty good year.

On what he worked to improve on during the high school season:

I think just being able to be a straight wing — still being able to post up and everything — but being a wing, being able to handle, doing all the aspects of the wing position instead of being half and half. I can be a wing and still post up and get a smaller guy on me.

On what he hopes to achieve on the AAU circuit this summer:

I think just continuing to work on my strength, and then just quickness and dribbling are the most important things for me to start working on.

On how his growth continues to affect his game:

If you’re 6-10 and you can dribble and shoot and all that, I think it puts that much more emphasis on your game and it’s harder for a lot more people to guard you, obviously. I’m still growing, and sometimes your knees are bugging you a little bit, but I mean it’s great all the time. I’m starting to get healthier, everything is going up.

On which schools are recruiting him the hardest right now:

Indiana, UCLA, Michigan, San Diego State, Cal, Arizona, a lot of other schools. Arizona State, that would be the majority.

On if he has any new offers to report:

Oregon and Arizona State, I think those are the only two.

On if he has any other visits planned:

I’m not sure. Something might come up, but at this point I’m not even sure.

On his thoughts about Indiana:

Obviously they have a great basketball program. They didn’t have that good of a year this year, but they’ll definitely be back on top of it this year, and if not this year then the next year, for sure. So I mean they’re always going to be one of the top basketball programs. And I mean Bloomington, the whole area and the gym, everything, it’s a really good experience out there.

On if he has a timeline for a decision:

No, I mean it could be a month, it could be a year and a half. I really have no clue.

On what he is looking for in a school:

I think a coach and a team that likes to get out on the court and run a little bit. A coach that’s going to play me on the wing, someone that has a reputation of getting guys to the pros, obviously — because that’s my ultimate goal — and somebody that can get you better while you’re at that program. Somewhere that you can continue to get better and you don’t peak — you just continue to get better and better the whole time.

(Photo credit: adidas)

Filed to:

  • Arch_Puddington

    Yes, it’s a highlight reel and everyone looks big time in a highlight reel. But never mind the dunks and flashy moves — look at the energy and forcefulness. Consider that this highlight reel includes passing and defense. This is a talented and dynamic player, and I hope he plays for the Hoosiers.

  • JMAC

    This kids got it! I hope we get him!

  • And One

    IU was in on him from the start. I think the only way they lose him is by having a couple more lacklustre seasons, and if that happens, well, relationships won’t be an issue.

  • TomJameson

    This is a real player. Even though it’s a highlight reel I can take away a lot from it. His passing & court awareness & vision, his concentration to finish through contact, his many moves. Even on the dunks you can see that he can handle the ball well (one-hand). Wow! I’m sure it can be said better, but wow! Yes, we definitely want him. LOL

  • RMK

    You’ve got to be able to get the elite players that have some kind of connection with the program. By this I mean Indiana kids, kids that played for a coach in AAU, siblings, family connections, etc. If you can get the majority of these players in state like Indiana, then you can gamble on trying to land some of the other big time guys or just fill the roster with role players.

  • CreamandCrimson

    IU (and ITH) have been following this guy for a long time…needless to say, there’s a lot to like. For those that don’t remember, there is an Indiana connection. His father, Brad (I think) Leaf, played at Lawrence North High School (in Indianapolis and my former high school) and then was a good player for Evansville.

    It’s rare that we get players from the West Coast but there is a chance here. He wants a place that gets guys to the pros? Check. He wants a team that gets out an runs? Check. He wants a place he will get better and better? Check. He wants to play on the wing? Well…recent evidence suggests he’d be forced to play center but maybe he won’t notice that!

    Following the 2016 class as they begin to make decisions is going to be really, really interesting

  • If we land him, he will have a Cody Zeller-esque impact, in terms of improving team cohesiveness. This kid is going to be a force at the D1 level as soon as he touches the floor.

  • mailman42

    He looks like an Alan Henderson type. With more offensive skill. He would be an important piece getting back to the final four.

  • kyle jenkins

    Program changer from day 1 wherever he goes. Future lottery pick easily.

  • Hoosier Pride

    He really wants to play on wing, feels and sounds like we need to sign an elite big for preferably 15 or 16. Would like an established big by 16, so 15 would obviously be the better option and make TJ feel more comfortable coming to bloomington knowing he can indeed play on the wing.

    From the sounds of it, Vonleh wanted some more wing-time as well and that didnt happen so I hope that does not stray TJ’s thoughts on us.

  • marcusgresham

    …but if IU gets someone like Swanigan to drop down low that frees up Leaf to move out to a wing or even a high post with his passing skills.

  • marcusgresham

    Noah wasn’t the passer that TJ is, so that should give Leaf a greater opportunity to play away from the basket a bit more.

  • MillaRed

    I’ve said it all along, his dad was a stud when Evansville was a regular tournament team in the MCC. Saw him play many times. Can’t believe TJ is getting so tall. Brad Leaf was a guard.

    Great character like his dad I’m sure. And he has been coached well. Goes to the rim with authority. I’m all in on this kid. I have Brad’s autograph buried in a box somewhere in the basement.

    Still somewhat depressing to hear a recruit talk about our terrible season though.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I’m aware that IF we have a legitimate big guy, then Leaf (or any other wing) won’t have to play out of position. I know Tom Crean and staff are pursuing a lot of low-post options in both 2015 and 2016…I am certainly hopeful he will get at least one of them to be a Hoosier.

  • Hoosier Pride


  • Devout Hoosier

    Leaf is going to look good in candy stripes.

  • Walton

    The difference with recruits like TJ is how IU bounces back next season.

  • Alford Bailey

    WHAT? Two bigs on the floor at the same time? Surely you are kidding.

  • FinEndNow

    I hope we can get him…

  • FinEndNow

    He’s a little awkward but he’s 6-10 and 16-17 years old so thats expected.

  • FinEndNow

    And Crean needs to see that this kid wants to play on the wing!!!! Cant just keep him locked up in the post like Jeremy Hollowell. Cant be stubborn. Sometimes as a coach you gotta make some changes. If he wants to play more on the wing then let him!

  • Gregory Spera

    “They didn’t have that good of a year this year, but they’ll definitely be back on top of it this year, and if not this year then the next year, for sure.”

    Or maybe even the year after that, but absolutely by, saaaay, 2020 or so. Jeez.

  • Dee McDonald

    I want this kid like a fat kid wants cake!!!!

  • SCHoosier

    I love the aggressiveness his game shows. This kid can go anywhere he wants and IMO will be a five star his senior year. The IU connection may be the best thing TC has going for his recruitment. AZ and UCLA will go all out..so will all the other top schools. Leaf will be a tough one to get..if he’s willing to leave his family, that west coast weather…(and all that goes with it) I think IU has a shot (given his father’s background and knowledge of IU b-ball)

  • HoosierGrampy

    Somebody seemed to continually forget that LF and/or HMP could have played in the post at the same time NV was on the court.

  • HoosierGrampy

    I seem to want to recall that the presence of 2 bigs on the floor at the same time produced success in B’town in the past and more recently in Louisville, Lexington, Syracuse, Storrs, Tucson, Madison and Westwood…

  • CreanFaithful

    Are we talking about the same JH that was given a shot to handle the ball out top of our offense and squandered the opportunity this past year???

  • Born&Bred2BleedHoosierCrimson

    I agree 100%. I realize it is a highlight video, but I was impressed with his unselfishness and court vision. Leaf would be a tremendous pick up and would fit nicely in our system. If we can get a DECENT big man in the 2015 or 16′ class, then that would allow Leaf to play the 3 or 4…and IF we still have JBJ/RJ….watch out.

    A lot of ifs and much left to still play itself out, but I’m surely wishing and hoping lol.

  • marcusgresham

    Token white guy comparison!
    (Just kidding, I’d be thrilled to have someone who plays like Gordon Hayward.)

  • marcusgresham

    The IU connection could work on Alford’s behalf, too. He and TJ’s dad are from the same era so don’t discount that angle.

  • FinEndNow

    No the JH that came out of HS as a shooter and a wing player but was forced into the post.

  • dwdkc

    Funny to run across someone from your ancient past, but I’m pretty sure I played against his dad at the Jordan Y league when we were little kids. I even remember he was really good then

  • OhioHoosier

    Love that tomahawk. The dunk was really lacking this year without Vic.

  • CreanFaithful

    Dude. He was a role player on a talent laden team. He shot 23% from three as a Frosh. He should consider himself lucky that he was able to get 10 min a game to use his god given height and athleticism to grab some boards.

    We get it. Cody and Noah are natural 4s in the NBA and had to play the 5 at IU. That’s not unique to IU. It happens all the time.

  • Hoosier Hall

    Troy had some really good ones and Sheehey had a couple but you’re right. Vic always had everyone on the edge of their seat and was good for at least a couple per game.

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    I’ve thought all along that this kid is the biggest recruit for IU’s future. He could very well turn out to be a top 5 player in that class and potentially a Zeller/Vonleh hybrid. He can shoot, handle the ball, pass, post, play defense, and has a high motor.

    This is one of those rare recruits that takes a team from good to national championship competitive and I really hope we get him though I think it’s probably a long shot!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Doesn’t mean CTC will do it!

  • FinEndNow

    What is unique is making HS SF’s and SG’s play PF in the Big Ten. JH, AE, Sheehey, Troy… Hoetz will have to obviously. JH never had the confidence while he played. He needed to be on the wing rather than the post.

  • Alford Bailey

    Yea, we all know JH was a point guard. Magic 2.0.

  • Alford Bailey

    Actually he makes a valid point. Trying to recruit a West coast kid away from UCLA and Arizona is tough enough. Now ask him to come here and play center and get beat like a red headed step child in the B1G when he could play his natural position elsewhere. Doubt that happens, I don’t care what his ties are to the Hoosier state. Last time I checked UCLA and Arizona get guys to the NBA at a pretty nice clip as well.

  • HoosierGrampy

    I can only hope that he one day he’ll see how successful other teams have been, are, and will continue to be using this “formula” and at least try it for an entire season–my guess is that he will amaze himself with the results.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Troy Williams will make a lot of people smile this coming season–and leave a lot our opponents fan bases wondering, “What if…”.

  • OhioHoosier

    No doubt….I was specifically referring to the two handed tomahawk that Vic always used to do

  • KmanCRK

    Using the term shooter is a bit liberal I believe. Just look at the stats from 2 yrs and see if you would have him launching 3s the way he seemed to think he should.

  • Kelin Blab

    He could be a game/team changer. I do think he could play the wing and do it very well. The interesting thing will be if he continues to grow, will coaches including Crean recruit him to play the wing.

  • HoosierGrampy

    Depends upon how you want to define “high success”. Ryan’s UW teams have not missed the NCAAs since he became head coach (13 straight invites). His teams also have won 20+ games per season 11 of 13 seasons and 3 times reached the 30 game plateau. 3 B1G titles and never worse than 4th in the league. He has brought more “success” to Madison than Davis, Sampson and Crean collectively have done for IU. I think that if you would look back from 2001, you’dl find UW (and each of the other schools listed) has 2 big men on the floor for significant minutes each game.

  • CreanFaithful

    Just because he was put in a position to initiate the offense, doesn’t mean they tried to make him a PG. People get too stuck on positions. He wasn’t being guarded by PG’s or guarding PG’s on defense. The staff simply thought he had the skill set to take certain match-ups off the dribble. It didn’t work and that was never my point. My point was that he was never siloed in the paint. When he was unable to initiate the offense and unable to hit perimeter shots, he was used sparingly to grab boards with his size and athleticism – which was the right move…

  • CreanFaithful

    His play on the wing proved that to be false. The only times JH experienced the smallest bit of success was in the paint and on the boards.

  • FinEndNow

    Actually JH did guard PG’s at times. Basically just using his length against them. A new start will be good for him. It didnt have a good here. He’s a kid that has very good potential and is athletic. focus and confidence was his problem. And when you dont have either then you’re not going to play well. Hopefully the coaching staff at Georgia St will give him the confidence he needs to play great and succeed.