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Foothills' T.J. Leaf decommits from Arizona

08/06/2015, 9:46pm PDT
By Mark Zeigler

Foothills Christian High star will "purse other basketball opportunities"

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Foothills Christian junior T.J. Leaf averaged 27.4 points and 14.2 rebounds a game for the Knights.

Where, or even if, Foothills Christian High star T.J. Leaf will play college basketball suddenly is bouncing around the rim again. What we do know, though, is it won’t be Arizona.

A month before starting his senior year, Leaf announced Thursday evening on Twitter that he is decommitting from Arizona and will reopen his recruitment. The versatile 6-foot-9 forward is a five-star prospect ranked in the top 15 for the class of 2016 by all three major recruiting services after averaging 27.4 points and 14.2 rebounds for Foothills Christian last season.

“This is definitely one of the hardest decisions of my life,” Leaf said in a statement posted on his Twitter page. “The school and staff of Arizona have been great to me and I have nothing but respect for Coach (Sean) Miller and the entire staff and wish them nothing but the best. But at this point in my life I know it’s best to explore my options and pursue other basketball opportunities.”

Key words: other basketball opportunities.

That could mean taking recruiting visits to other schools and picking one. Duke, Michigan, UCLA and Florida were all finalists when he orally committed to Arizona last November, two years before he would put on a college uniform. San Diego State also was in the mix, and Leaf and his father visited a practice last fall.

That could mean retaliation against Miller, the head coach of the U.S. under-19 World Championship team, for cutting him at training camp in June.

That also could mean an acceleration of his pro career.

After not making the U.S. under-19 team, Leaf switched basketball nationalities to Israel so he could play in the under-18 European Championships in Austria. Brad Leaf, his father and the head coach at Foothills Christian, played professionally for 17 seasons in Israel and T.J. was born there in 1997.

Israel lost 73-72 to Sweden in the B division final, but Leaf was named tournament MVP after averaging 16.1 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 55 percent in nine games.

Leaf and his father were unavailable for comment Thursday, but one scenario goes like this:

Leaf, who turned 18 in April and is a year older than his grade, reclassifies so he can graduate from high school now, spends the season playing professionally in Israel, then enters the NBA Draft next June. Players who grew up in the United States are not eligible for the draft until one year after they graduate high school.

It wouldn’t be an unprecedented move for a San Diego prep basketball star. Jeremy Tyler skipped his final year at San Diego High and spent the next two years playing overseas, first in Israel and then Japan, before entering the 2011 NBA Draft and being picked 39th overall.

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