Arizona lost a big prospect for its Class of 2016 when five-star 6'10" power forward T.J. Leaf decommitted yesterday. Prior to his commitment to Arizona, the Bruins appeared to be a strong contender for Leaf, the 13th-rated prospect in the country according to Scout. Now that Leaf is again available, UCLA is reportedly a favorite to land him.
However, as things now stand, all 13 of the Bruins' scholarships for 2016-17 are accounted for, which means that Steve Alford will have to find a way to free up a scholarship to pursue Leaf. And according to Josh Gershon at Scout.com, Alford has indicated that he is willing to take his son off scholarship to accommodate Leaf (emphasis added):
On Thursday night, following Leaf's decommitment, Scout talked with the five-star prospect's AAU coach with the Compton Magic, Etop Udo-Ema, who said that he had yet to speak with the Bruins staff.
"I'm sure they're interested but the question is do they have a scholarship?" Udo-Ema asked at the time. "I haven't talked to them yet. I'm sure they're going to be interested obviously."
According to sources, since that interview, UCLA and the Leaf camp have spoken and the Bruins have not only expressed their interest in Scout's 3rd rated 2016 power forward, but explained where that scholarship would come from.
The Bruins staff expressed to the Leaf party, sources said, that in order to make room for him at UCLA, that head Steve Alford was willing to take his son, starting point guard Bryce Alford, off scholarship and make him a walk-on for his senior year.
Leaf would be an enormous prize for Alford if he can reel him in, especially with the Bruins in need of a genuine power forward. Of course there are plenty of other programs interested in Leaf, and he showed interest in Florida (as well as UCLA) before committing to Arizona. Therefore, Steve Alford will have a lot of competition in trying to bring Leaf aboard.
However, Josh Gershon speculates that UCLA is a "logical potential destination" for the El Cajon Foothills Christian athlete because of Leaf's "proximity to the Bruins' campus and his shoe company ties playing on the adidas circuit."
For what it's worth, even if Alford can't convince Leaf to come to UCLA, Leaf's decommitment from Arizona is a huge loss for Sean Miller and the Wildcats. If Alford is successful in recruiting Leaf, T.J. will join five-star point guard Lonzo Ball, four-star center Ike Anigbogu, and three-star shooting guard Kobe Paras in UCLA's Class of 2016.
For those who want to see what T.J. Leaf brings to the table, check out the video from his junior year at Foothills Christian:
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/CpHe7AgY7ko" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
As you can see, Leaf moves well for a big man. He has terrific hands, nice footwork and great ball skills. He can play with his back to the basket but also provide a scoring threat from the perimeter.
Although Alford is still a long way from securing a commitment from T.J. Leaf, it's interesting to learn that, in principle, he may be willing to take away his son's scholarship for the benefit of the program. That would be a positive development.