Ty Jacob "T. J." Leaf (born April 30, 1997) is an American-Israeli basketball player for the Indiana Pacers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). After playing one season of college basketball for the UCLA Bruins, he was selected by the Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft with the 18th overall pick.
Leaf was named an All-American as a high school senior in 2016. As a UCLA freshman in 2016–17, he earned first-team all-conference honors in the Pac-12. He also played for Israel's Under-18 junior national team at the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship B Division.
Leaf was born in Tel Aviv to Karen and Brad Leaf. His father was playing professional basketball in Israel at the time, and he enjoyed a 17-year career in the country. Leaf lived his first 2 1⁄2 years in Tel Aviv before growing up in Lakeside, California, in San Diego County. His father coached him in summer leagues prior to high school. Despite possessing the height of a power forward—he stood 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) in junior high—Leaf played on the perimeter to develop guard skills. His father wanted him to be versatile like the big men that he had competed against as a pro in Europe.
Leaf attended Foothills Christian High School in El Cajon, California, where he also played under his father. As a junior, Leaf averaged 27.4 points, 14.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.7 blocks per game, leading Foothills Christian to the San Diego Section Division II championship. Cal-Hi Sports named him their Division II State Player of the Year.
In his senior year, Leaf led the team to a No. 3 state ranking after averaging 28.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. He scored a season-high 44 points in a loss to Chino Hills, who were led by future teammate Lonzo Ball. Leaf earned McDonald's and Ballislife All-American honors, and USA Today named him second-team All-USA. He was a runner-up to Ball for California Mr. Basketball. Leaf finished his high school career second all-time in the San Diego Section in both points (3,022) and rebounds (1,476). He trailed only his brother, Troy, in points (3,318 for Foothills Christian from 2007 to 2010) and Angelo Chol in rebounds (1,732 with Hoover from 2008 to 2011).
Leaf originally committed in 2014 to play for Arizona under coach Sean Miller. He tried out for the United States under-19 national team, also coached by Miller, but was cut in training camp in June 2015. In August, Leaf decommitted from Arizona, leading to speculation that the cut by Miller was a motivating factor. He signed with UCLA three months later, choosing them over Oregon and San Diego State. A consensus five-star and overall top-20 recruit, he joined his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teammates from the Compton Magic, Ike Anigbogu and Kobe Paras, who also committed to UCLA. The Bruins recruiting class also included Ball, who along with Leaf were both expected to lead a UCLA turnaround in 2016–17 after the Bruins finished just 15–17 the year before.
On December 5, 2016, Leaf was named Pac-12 Player of the Week following his performance at Kentucky, where he registered 17 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. He and Ball were named to the mid-season watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, given annually to the top college player in the nation; UCLA was one of just five schools with two candidates on the list. The two were also among 30 on the midseason watch list for the Naismith College Player of the Year. On February 1, 2017, Leaf scored a career-high 32 points on 14-for-18 shooting and added 14 rebounds in a 95–79 win over Washington State, which ended a two-game losing streak for No. 11 UCLA. He missed the regular season finale with a sprained left ankle, which he suffered five minutes into the prior game against Washington.
Leaf finished the season as UCLA's leading scorer with 16.3 points per game. He also averaged 8.2 rebounds and ranked third in field goal percentage (61.7) among Power Five conference players. He received honorable mention from the Associated Press (AP) for their All-American team, and was named first-team All-Pac-12 along with teammates Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford. Leaf and Ball were also placed on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. On March 30, Leaf announced that he would be leaving UCLA to declare for the 2017 NBA draft.
Indiana Pacers (2017–present)
Leaf was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft with the 18th overall pick. He was joined in Indiana by Anigbogu, who was selected by the Pacers in the second round.
National team career
After being cut by coach Miller from the U.S. Under-19 junior national team in 2015, Leaf joined Israel's Under-18 junior national team the following month in July, to play in the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship Division B in Austria. Although Israel lost 73–72 in the Division B final, Leaf was named tournament's MVP, after averaging 16.1 points per game, on 55 percent shooting, to go along with 8.4 rebounds per game in nine games played.
Accomplishments and awards
- AP honorable mention All-American (2017)
- First-team All-Pac-12 (2017)
- Pac-12 All-Freshman team (2017)
- High school