UCLA freshman TJ Leaf leaving for NBA

TJ Leaf will declare for the NBA draft, UCLA’s freshman announced via his Twitter account Thursday afternoon.

The 6-foot-10 power forward said he intends to hire an agent, which would remove any possibility of a return for his sophomore season.

“I will always love my UCLA family so much, in particular the amazing teammates I had this past year. They are like brothers to me,” Leaf said. “This was the most fun year of basketball I’ve had in my entire life, and I will definitely miss it. But, I cannot wait to start my new journey.”

Leaf’s decision is the second domino to fall after freshman point guard Lonzo Ball announced his intention to depart for the NBA in the locker room after UCLA’s loss to Kentucky in an NCAA Tournament South Regional semifinal on March 24.

Ball is projected as a top-three pick in the June 22 NBA draft, but Leaf’s status is less certain.

“He’s probably a lottery guy,” said an NBA scout. “But I’d like him to be tougher. He’s more of a mismatch offensively as a stretch four, but I wonder if he’s quick enough to guard a (small forward) or strong enough to guard a (power forward).”

No matter his fate in the NBA, Leaf is a substantial loss for UCLA. The five-star recruit finished his lone season with the Bruins as the team’s leading scorer.

He averaged 16.7 points and his 61.7 field goal percentage ranked fourth in the country among power five conference players. He also shot 46 percent from 3-point range and displayed ability to run the floor, both big selling points considering the quickening tempo in the NBA.

“People want to say he’s white-guy athletic, but I think he’s athletic no matter the flavor,” an NBA scout said. “But I don’t see the physicality. He needs to get stronger. There’s a weight room in Pauley Pavilion, but I’m not sure how often he went in there. He’s athletic, so he’ll get put-back dunks and rebounds because he’s athletic, not because he’s strong….

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