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T.J. Leaf

(1997 - )

Ty Jacob “T. J.” Leaf (born April 30, 1997) is an American-Israeli basketball player for the Indiana Pacers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). After playing one season of college basketball for the UCLA Bruins, he was selected by the Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft with the 18th overall pick. In April 2018, Leaf became the first Israeli-American to play in an NBA playoff game.

Leaf was named an All-American as a high school senior in 2016. As a UCLA freshman in 2016–17, he earned first-team all-conference honors in the Pac-12. He also played for Israel’s Under-18 junior national team at the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship B Division.

Early Life and Career

Leaf was born in Tel Aviv to Karen and Brad Leaf. His father played professional basketball in Israel for 17 years. Leaf lived in Tel Aviv until he was 2½ years old, before his parents moved to Lakeside, California, in San Diego County. His father coached him in summer basketball leagues prior to high school. Despite possessing the height of a power forward – standing 6 ft. 3 in. when he was in junior high – Leaf played on the perimeter to develop guard skills. His father wanted him to be versatile like the big men that he had competed against as a pro in Europe.

Leaf attended Foothills Christian High School in El Cajon, California, where his father was the coach. As a junior, Leaf averaged 27.4 points, 14.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.7 blocks per game, leading Foothills Christian to the San Diego Section Division II championship. Cal-Hi Sports named him their Division II State Player of the Year. In his senior year, Leaf led the team to a No. 3 state ranking.

Leaf originally committed in 2014 to play college basketball for Arizona under coach Sean Miller. He tried out for the United States under-19 national team, also coached by Miller, but was cut in training camp in June 2015. Leaf subsequently joined Israel’s Under-18 junior national team to play in the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship Division B in Austria. Although Israel lost 73–72 in the Division B final, Leaf was named tournament’s MVP, after averaging 16.1 points per game, on 55 percent shooting, to go along with 8.4 rebounds per game in nine games played.

In August, Leaf rescinded his commitment to Arizona, leading to speculation that the cut by Miller was a motivating factor. He signed with UCLA three months later, choosing the Bruins over Oregon and San Diego State. During his freshman year, Leaf finished the season as UCLA's leading scorer at 16.3 points per game. Leaf announced in March 2017 that he would be leaving college to enter the NBA Draft.

Professional Career

Leaf was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft with the 18th overall pick. Leaf began 2017–18 as a fixture in the Pacers’ rotation, averaging 16.2 minutes and five shots per contest through the first eight games. He struggled, however, on defense and his playing time fell as Indiana coach Nate McMillan changed his rotation. In December 2017, Leaf was assigned to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA G League and averaged 23.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in a three-game stint before returning to the Pacers. He played 52 games during the regular season, but saw limited playing time toward the end. In April 2018, Leaf became the first ever Israeli-American to play in an NBA playoff game.

Sources: Leaf makes history as first Israeli in NBA playoffs, JNS, (May 1, 2018); 
T.J. Leaf, Wikipedia.