UCLA’s other fresh­man is liv­ing his dream

Leaf ’s one sea­son with the Bru­ins con­vinced him that he was ready for the NBA.

Los Angeles Times - - NBA DRAFT - tania.gan­guli@la­times.com By Tania Gan­guli

NEW YORK — On Thurs­day night at Bar­clays Cen­ter, a UCLA fresh­man will hear his name called, sur­rounded by his fam­ily and the peo­ple clos­est to him, ready to em­bark on a life­long dream. No, not that one. This one is for­ward TJ Leaf, who is ex­pected to be a mid-to-late first-round se­lec­tion. Another one-and­done player out of UCLA this year, al­beit the less-talked-about one.

“I mean, I guess he was kind of in the shade a lit­tle bit, but to me he wasn’t,” said Lonzo Ball, the UCLA one-and-done fresh­man on whom the most at­ten­tion has cen­tered this draft sea­son. “I love ev­ery­thing I got to do with him on the court, and I’m proud of him.”

Said Leaf: “This is what I’ve been work­ing for my whole life. Just know­ing a lot of my dreams are go­ing to come true is ex­tremely ex­cit­ing. I’m anx­ious to see where I end up.”

Born in Is­rael, Leaf grew up near San Diego. About a year ago, his life in­cluded bas­ket­ball, the beach and fish­ing. And a lo­cal chicken wing place he can’t even re­mem­ber the last time he vis­ited.

UCLA coach Steve Al­ford might have known Leaf ’s fu­ture even be­fore he did. Al­ford told Leaf, when he was re­cruit­ing him out of Foothills Chris­tian High in El Ca­jon, that he had the tal­ent to leave af­ter just one year in col­lege. Be­fore long, Leaf be­lieved it him­self.

He be­came an im­por­tant part of UCLA’s turnaround, from a 15-17 record in 2015-16 to 31-5. He meshed well with Ball, led the team with a 16.3 points-per-game av­er­age and shot well from be­yond the three-point line.

“On the court he’s a big man that’s a guard pretty much,” Ball said. “It kind of meshed with my game well be­cause he runs the floor all the time. We had a good chem­istry on the court.”

Since UCLA’s sea­son ended, Leaf at­tended the NBA draft com­bine and has been to 11 work­outs. He’s worked on adding strength to his 6-foot-10, 225-pound frame, while also im­prov­ing his eat­ing habits.

“You just gotta keep your body as clean and healthy as pos­si­ble,” Leaf said. “Ev­ery­one says you can’t put bad stuff in a Corvette or Fer­rari. It’s re­ally true. You have to take care of your body. You’ve got to eat a lot of calo­ries but you have to eat clean calo­ries.”

As with many play­ers in his range, Leaf shrugged when asked where he thinks he’ll go. There’s too much un­cer­tainty in the sec­ond half of the first round.

“You kind of get a sense of [what teams like you] but the draft is so crazy, es­pe­cially right now with all these trades hap­pen­ing,” Leaf said. “You don’t even know who’s go­ing to have picks. It’s just re­ally, it’s ex­cit­ing. We’ll just see what hap­pens.”

Young Kwak As­so­ci­ated Press

TJ LEAF led UCLA in scor­ing, av­er­ag­ing 16.3 points a game for the 31-5 Bru­ins.

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