Comparisons will vary, but T.J. Leaf appears to have a dash of Adreian Payne mixed into his impressive repertoire. And that freakishly incredible skill set would fall in line with Michigan's mission statement.
At 6’9” and 210 pounds, the 5-star power forward can drive to the basket like a guard, shoot from the perimeter like a guard, pass like a guard, defend like a guard, run (almost) like a guard and adjust on the fly—just like Payne, who developed into a fine four-year player for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
The long, super athletic do-all should provide similar results for coach John Beilein at Michigan. As of mid-August, the Wolverines were among the Foothill Christian (El Cajon, Calif.) junior's top choices.
Beilein made it to the 2013 title game with help from Mitch McGary, a versatile 6'10" F/C. Without a major inside presence, the Wolverines reached the 2014 Elite Eight.
Beilein needs another big to get the job done.
Sure, playing for Coach K’s Blue Devils wouldn’t be a bad idea; and Tom Crean’s Hoosiers certainly would provide a comfortable environment for Leaf, who could follow in the footsteps of Cody Zeller and become a program player in Bloomington.
Michigan certainly isn't the only team in the nation that's competing for conference titles and vying for extended dances in March.
However, given Beilein’s style, approach to development—he's the best NBA developer, per ESPN's Jeff Goodman—and ability to recruit “coachable” preps, Leaf would be doing himself a favor by packing his bags for Ann Arbor. No disrespect to the other potential suitors, but Beilein would be a phenomenal mentor to Leaf and most likely get the most out of him.
Again, other programs have molded excellent frontcourts, and others would suit Leaf. But Beilein’s tempo would allow Leaf, who visited May 19 (UO) and was offered June 15, to far exceed the standard duties of a power forward. In the past, Wolverines fans have seen forwards set the tone for the offense and defense, often becoming the team’s best player and leader.
Just because Leaf is 6’9” and growing doesn’t mean that he’ll be stuck in the paint. He could choose to do that elsewhere, but he’s swift with the ball, moves well away from it, and has an eye for the play at hand, meaning that he knows where to be and when to be there.
Why confine that?
Beilein probably won’t have to spend much time on fundamentals, which means that he can immediately begin to refine Leaf’s polished skill set. If his past is of any indication, Beilein would have Leaf doing everything—again, something like what Izzo did with Payne, but maybe sooner.
This season, Kameron Chatman, a 6’7” forward, will get his feet wet. Starting in 2016, it’ll be Jon Teske, a 6’10”, 210-pound center and excellent defender who just committed to Michigan. The future looks bright for Beilein’s team and dim for those who face the challenge of beating one of the fastest frontcourts in the country.
Per Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops.com, Leaf likes the “flexibility” offered by Beilein—who is recruiting the "hardest"—not to mention the coach’s reputation for…well, here’s that word again: Development.
“They have a great reputation of developing players and when they get there they should be good, but when they leave they are well developed and they gain a lot of areas of their game,” Leaf said. “I love them because they play a lot of people in multiple positions like me and they run the ball a lot.”
Option? Yeah. Obvious fit? That's probably more likely. Beilein doesn't offer to offer, he courts players who mimic his design. Leaf is tailored for it.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81