T.J. Leaf joins a 2016 class that could alter UCLA’s fortunes
A recruiting class expected to boost UCLA back to national relevance got even stronger Thursday evening when a skilled power forward committed to the Bruins.
T.J. Leaf, Rivals.com’s No. 15 prospect in the Class of 2016, chose UCLA over fellow West Coast powers Oregon and San Diego State. The 6-foot-10 El Cajon, Calif., native had previously committed to Arizona before reopening his recruitment over the summer.
The addition of Leaf solidifies UCLA’s 2016 recruiting class as one of the five best in the nation, behind only Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky at this point. On Wednesday, the Bruins received letters of intent from elite point guard Lonzo Ball (No. 8), athletic shot blocker Ike Anigbogu (No. 37) and slashing wing Kobe Paras (No. 128).
Pair that class with the returning talent UCLA should have back next season, and the Bruins could have their most talented roster since the heyday of the Ben Howland era when they went to three straight Final Fours from 2006-2008. Transfers or early entry defections are always a possibility, but this is what UCLA’s 2016-17 rotation could look like:
GUARDS: Lonzo Ball (Fr.), Bryce Alford (Sr.), Aaron Holiday (So.) Isaac Hamilton (Sr.), Prince Ali (So.)
FORWARDS: T.J. Leaf (Fr.), Jonah Bolden (So.), Gyorgy Goloman (Jr.)
CENTERS: Thomas Welsh (Jr.), Ike Anigbogu (Fr.)
Leaf should be an important piece on that team because of his combination of skill and athleticism. He is a deft passer, a capable rebounder and a scoring threat both in the paint and from the high post.
A major reason for UCLA’s renewed recruiting success in Southern California is the strong relationship between assistant coach David Grace and the Compton Magic AAU program. Leaf, Anigbogu and Paras are all members of the Magic, as are Class of 2017 UCLA commits Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill.
Over-reliance on that pipeline could be a long-term concern for UCLA, but for now the Bruins shouldn’t apologize for reaping the benefits.
They have a young 2015-16 roster, a top five recruiting class set to arrive next fall and realistic hopes of returning to title contention in the next couple years.
Rivals.com video of T.J. Leaf:
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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter!