The Daily Aztec

SDSU basketball target T.J. Leaf commits to UCLA

Courtesy Scout.com

Courtesy Scout.com

by Patrick Carr, Sports Editor

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When behind the scenes photos of T.J. Leaf wearing a red and black tie on a TV set in San Diego emerged on Twitter, it sent San Diego State men’s basketball fans into a frenzy for a fleeting moment in which they believed.

Believed despite reports saying he wouldn’t, that he would. Believed that maybe the plateau for San Diego State wasn’t behind them.

Until he didn’t.

In a move that was heavily predicted in and out of the recruiting world, Leaf, the five-start 2016 power forward from nearby Foothills Christian High, committed to UCLA men’s basketball on Thursday during a TV special on ESPNU.

It’s another win for the Bruins in the California recruiting scene and another domino knocked over for San Diego State men’s basketball.

For SDSU fans, it was a tantalizing, almost teasing, process as soon as they saw pictures of the red and black tie — Aztecs colors.

“Every time I’d go there it felt like home,” Leaf said of UCLA during the ESPNU special.

Leaf is in the top 25 on all their player ranking lists for the class of 2016. He’s ranked as high as No. 13 by ESPN and as low as No. 22 by Scout.com.

He averaged 27.4 points and 14.2 rebounds per game his junior year at Foothills along with leading the Knights to a 42-point win over Mira Mesa High in the San Diego Section Division II title game.

And once again, SDSU head coach Steve Fisher was bested by UCLA head coach Steve Alford, who tormented the Aztecs on and off the court while head coach at University of New Mexico from 2007-13.

“We connect really well. I think we have really similar personalities,” Leaf said of Alford. “I just think he’s got a really great basketball mind.”

Initially, Leaf committed to the University of Arizona nearly two years ago. He then reopened his recruitment in the summer and had as many as 10 teams chasing his signature. It came down to three: SDSU, UCLA and the University of Oregon.

For SDSU, it’s another class of 2016 prospect committing elsewhere. Earlier this year, Rainier Beach small forward Keith Smith decommitted from SDSU before verbally committing to Oregon a week later.

Michael Cage Jr., a 6-foot-9 power forward from Santa Ana Mater Dei, son of SDSU basketball legend Michael Cage and younger brother to current SDSU volleyball player Alexis Cage, committed to Oregon after nearly everyone predicted he would become an Aztec.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Aztecs on the recruiting trail. They nabbed 2016 wing Jalen McDaniels from Tacoma, Washington, and next year they’ll have redshirt-sophomores Max Hoetzel and Montaque Gill-Caesar and redshirt-freshman Nolan Narain eligible.

As far as committing to UCLA, the writing was on the wall despite the choice in tie colors.

His AAU club, Compton Magic, has four players who’ve committed to UCLA: Ike Anigbogu, Kobe Paras, Jalen Hill and Jaylen Hands. Anigbogu and Paras have signed National Letters of Intent, while Hill and Hands are 2017 products and have verbally committed.

Additionally, 247sports.com’s “Crystal Ball” gave Leaf a 95-percent chance to commit to UCLA. Oregon had a 5-percent chance.

But the Crystal Ball has been wrong before, such as with current SDSU redshirt-freshman forward Zylan Cheatham, who was given an 88-percent chance of committing to the University of New Mexico.

Leaf took official visits to Oregon and UCLA back in October, along with visits to UC Berkeley, University of Kansas and University of Louisville.

He took his official visit to SDSU in October and attended the Nov. 2 exhibition win over Cal State San Marcos, although he’s reportedly made many unofficial visits due to his close proximity. As for not staying close to home, Leaf said it was an extremely hard decision.

“It’s extremely tough. I have a great relationship with not just the coaches but the players there,” Leaf said.

With Leaf, his commitment to a rival Pac-12 school is a jab in the face of Arizona head coach Sean Miller. Miller was the coach of the U.S. Under-19 team over the summer. Leaf tried out for the team, but was cut by Miller.

Then Leaf went and played for the Israeli team during the Under-18 World Championships in Austria and dominated, averaging 16.1 points and 8.4 rebounds while grabbing tournament MVP honors.

Managing Editor Matthew Bain contributed to this report.

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1 Comment

One Response to “SDSU basketball target T.J. Leaf commits to UCLA”

  1. David Kim on November 12th, 2015 5:43 pm

    You know, the Aztecs can really use T.J. Leaf and he can get a lot of minutes and points no matter what, but I can see why he joined UCLA, because it’s a great school, has great sports, education, people, etc. It would be fun to see T.J. at SDSU, but UCLA is fun to watch too. Good job T.J., keep working hard.

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