Arizona Basketball

Slideshow: Arizona Wildcats Class of 2016 power forward options without Leaf



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The end of the world is near … OK, maybe not, but to some Arizona Wildcats fans, the de-commitment of Class of 2016 five-star power forward T.J. Leaf yesterday made it seem like the apocalypse is close.

In the aftermath of the surprising de-commitment, which reportedly caught Arizona’s coaching staff off-guard, fans tweeted me that Sean Miller is suffering in his recruiting for not reaching the Final Four yet. Another mentioned that Leaf put the Wildcats behind the eight ball in recruiting by committing early and then backing away.

The fact of the matter is Miller and Arizona will continue to operate as a Top 10 program and annual threat for the Final Four with or without a player like Leaf. Is the de-commitment a major blow? Of course, because Leaf is an NBA-player-in-waiting. Is it devastating? Hardly.

If Leaf goes to UCLA or another major program like Duke, questions will surround why he thought it was better to play elsewhere instead of a guaranteed start and extended minutes with a powerhouse like Arizona in 2016-17. Power forward is one of Miller’s greatest recruiting needs with transfers Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen exhausting their eligibility after this upcoming season.

The best explanation for Leaf’s turnabout that I’ve read comes from the San Diego Union-Tribune, which in an article published last night mentions Leaf and his father may be contemplating playing professionally in Israel this year for the younger Leaf.

A chain of events may have led to the decision by Leaf, who is already 18 and eligible to reclassify to graduate from high school now. Leaf was cut by Miller and his Team USA U19 team in June. His desire to play internationally this summer made him join Israel’s U18 World Championships team because he was born in Israel, where his father played professionally for 17 years.

Leaf’s outstanding performance in the tournament (16.1 points and 8.4 rebounds a game) has made him perhaps think of playing professionally in Israel this season and enter the NBA draft next June. If this is the correct scenario, who can fault Leaf for trying to enhance in his career with the hopes of playing as soon as possible in the NBA?

Regardless, with Leaf out of the picture, Miller must think ahead to other power forward prospects. The slideshow takes a look at the strongest candidate to fill the void left by Leaf’s de-commitment. …


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