UCLA power forward TJ Leaf announced Thursday he's planning to leave the Bruins after one season in order to enter the 2017 NBA draft.
Leaf confirmed his decision with a post on social media:
TJ Leaf @leafsquad22
#ThankYouBruins #GoBruins https://t.co/aVsQbnwdxk2017-3-30 20:31:51
Leaf and UCLA head coach Steve Alford each released statements on the decision, via Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated:
Brian Hamilton @BrianHamiltonSI
Official word from UCLA's T.J. Leaf and Steve Alford on the freshman forward entering the NBA Draft: https://t.co/uz338Or0KY2017-3-30 22:19:13
The 19-year-old Israeli-American averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks in 35 games as a freshman for UCLA. Those numbers include 17 points and seven rebounds in the Bruins' season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 last week.
Leaf showcased an efficient offensive game all season. He shot 61.7 percent from the field and, while he attempted less than two threes per game, connected on 46.6 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Although Leaf was initially overshadowed by senior guard Bryce Alford and fellow freshman sensation Lonzo Ball, he ended up as the star-studded Bruins' leading scorer. It also helped his draft stock rise considerably along the way.
Matt Cummings of the Daily Bruin passed along comments from an NBA scout in late January.
"TJ's been unbelievable," the scout said. "His energy he plays with, his ability to finish around the rim, he can pick-and-pop, he can score it in so many ways. And I love his energy on the glass, offensively and defensively."
He'll head into the draft process as a fringe lottery pick. NBADraft.net projected the Charlotte Hornets will select him with the 11th overall selection in its latest mock draft.
Leaf's on-ball defense must improve and he'll likely be expected to bulk up, which will make a difference at the defensive end as well as help him handle the NBA grind. That said, his well-rounded offensive game should allow him to make an instant impact at the next level.