T.J. Leaf

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Player of the Week: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

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Nigel Hayes had arguably the best week of his career in what might turn out to be the most important week of Wisconsin’s season.

It started on Tuesday night, when Hayes had nine points, 10 assists and 11 boards as he eviscerated No. 22 Syracuse’s zone in a dominating, 77-60 win for the Badgers. Four days later, Hayes finished with a season-high 28 points, adding six assists and shooting 10-for-13 from the floor as Wisconsin pulled away late to be Oklahoma, 90-70.

The past week was the best week of basketball that the Badgers have played this season, and so much of that credit falls on the shoulders of Hayes, who has refocused the way that he’s playing the game. The knock on Hayes during his junior year and through the first two weeks of his senior season was simply: He settled for way too many threes. As a junior, he shot 29.3 percent while shooting 3.8 threes per game. Prior to the last three games, Hayes was shooting 29.0 percent from three while taking 4.5 per game.

In other words, after a year where Hayes essentially proved that he was not a good enough shooter to be a ‘shooter’, he was shooting even more.

The last three games, however, Hayes has taken just two threes and made them both. He’s playing inside-out, he’s operating as a facilitator as much as he is a scorer and, as a result, he’s looked every-bit the part of the guy that was picked to be Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.

When Hayes plays like this, the Badgers are right there with Indiana as the favorite to win the Big Ten title this season.

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  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Leaf was the best player on the floor for the Bruins as they went into Rupp Arena and knocked off No. 1 Kentucky. Leaf showed off his versatile skill-set, but he also played with a toughness and a defensive mettle that wasn’t exactly expected of him entering the season. We know how good the Bruins are on the offensive end of the floor, but if they’re getting stops, too? Scary.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and never was that more evident than this week. He averaged 14.0 points and 8.5 boards while chipping in with 19 total assists in wins over Penn and Saint Joseph’s. We’ve already talked about how Hart has added a consistent three-point shot and how he can make plays in ball-screen actions, now he’s handing out double-figure assists? Entering the week, Hart had never averaged two assists per game for a season, including this season.
  • Rodney Bullock, Providence: It’s too early in the year to make any blanket statements about Bullock or a young Friar team, but he’s averaging 21.4 points on the season and, this week alone, had 36 points in a win over New Hampshire and followed that up with 17 points as the Friars beat No. 21 Rhode Island.
  • Kevin Hervey, UT Arlington: Hervey, who may be the best NBA prospect in the mid-major ranks, posted a pair of double-doubles in road wins this week, including 18 points and 10 boards as UTA went to Austin and knocked off Texas.
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson, the 6-foot-5 power forward for the Fighting Irish, is averaging 18.7 points and 10.7 boards this season. He’s notched five straight double-doubles, two of which came this week, including a 24-point, 17-rebound, three-block performance in a win over Iowa.

Five-star forward T.J. Leaf commits to UCLA

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UCLA continued its pipeline to the Compton Magic grassroots program on Thursday as talented five-star forward T.J. Leaf committed to the Bruins during a televised announcement.

The 6-foot-10 Leaf becomes the third member of UCLA’s Class of 2016 to come from the Magic and two more Class of 2017 UCLA commitments are also from the storied AAU program.

A former Arizona commit, Leaf is a very skilled forward who can hit jumpers from all over and also put the ball on the floor a little bit. Regarded as the No. 15 overall prospect in the national class, Leaf picked UCLA over his other finalists of Oregon and San Diego State.

During 12 games with the Magic this spring and summer, Leaf averaged 21 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Leaf joins five-star point guard Lonzo Ball, four-star big man Ike Anigbogu and three-star guard Kobe Paras in the Bruins’ Class of 2016.

Mixtape of five-star 2016 forward T.J. Leaf (VIDEO)

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Since opening up his recruitment from Arizona last month, five-star forward T.J. Leaf has been one of the hottest recruiting names in the country. The skilled forward can hit shot all the way out the perimeter, but he’s also athletic enough to finish above the rim.

The 6-foot-10 forward from El Cajon, California is a potential All-American candidate this spring. Here’s a new mixtape of him from Courtside Films.

Five-star forward T.J. Leaf focusing on eight schools

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Just days after announcing that he was de-committing from Arizona, five-star 2016 forward T.J. Leaf is focusing on eight schools. The news was announced by the Compton Magic grassroots program that Leaf plays for.

The eight schools (in no particular order according to the announcement) under consideration are Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Texas, California, San Diego State, Gonzaga and Indiana.

Leaf had an eventful summer on the court, beginning with some good play for the Magic on the adidas Uprising circuit. Leaf tried out for the United States U19 team but did not make the cut for a squad that would go on to win gold at the FIBA U19 World Championships under Arizona head coach Sean Miller’s tutelage. The team is selected by a committee led by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim.

Leaf went on to represent Israel at the FIBA U18 European Championships, where he emerged as one of the top players in the tournament.

Leaf’s list includes some of the nation’s top programs, with many in positions of need when it comes to their front court rotation in 2016. Kentucky seemingly reloads every season, and each of the other teams on the list has at least one contributing senior who will be out of eligibility when the 2015-16 season concludes.

Five-star 2016 forward T.J. Leaf de-commits from Arizona

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One of the top players in the Class of 2016 has decided to reopen his recruitment on the heels of a standout performance at the FIBA U18 European Championships.

6-foot-10 forward T.J. Leaf, who represented Israel at the event and hails from San Diego, has de-committed from Arizona. At the time of Leaf’s commitment in late November he picked the Wildcats over Florida, UCLA, Duke and Michigan. Given his progression in both the high school and international game, it’s safe to say that Leaf will be a highly sought-after recruit now that he’s decided to reopen his recruitment.

“Thank you to Arizona for the opportunity to play for an outstanding program but I’ve decided to reopen my recruitment,” Leaf said in a statement he posted on Twitter Thursday night. “The school and staff of Arizona have been great to me and I have nothing but respect for Coach 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.”

Leaf was Arizona’s lone commit in the class, and with three seniors in the front court this decision has major implications for Sean Miller and his staff as they look to put together their next class of freshmen. The Wildcats will lose Kaleb Tarczewski, Mark Tollefsen and Ryan Anderson at the end of the 2015-16 season, leaving Dusan Ristic, Rekwon Smith and Chance Commanche as front court players with eligibility remaining beyond the upcoming season.

It should be noted that Arizona is in the running for multiple high-level front court prospects, including De’Ron Davis, Schnider Herard, M.J. Cage and Mitch Lightfoot. Those recruitments become more important in light of Thursday’s news.

Five-star 2016 power forward verbally commits to Arizona

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On the final day of the early signing period for Class of 2015 recruits, one of the top recruits in the Class of 2016 announced his decision to attend one of college basketball’s best programs.

T.J. Leaf, a five-star power forward from El Cajon, California, announced Wednesday afternoon that he will be attending Arizona. Among the other programs thoughts to be in contention for Leaf were Florida, Duke, Indiana and UCLA.

“T.J. Leaf is very skilled with the ball in his hands and as a shooter for a forward his size,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “He needs to get a little tougher on the interior and rebounding the basketball, but Sean Miller has it rolling on the recruiting trail right now.”

To Phillips’ point regarding Arizona’s recruiting success, their pipeline at the forward spot is impressive. Currently the Wildcats have junior Brandon Ashley and freshman Craig Victor seeing minutes, with Ashley being a starter who rates among the best forwards in the country. Also to be considered is the presence of Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, who’s sitting out this season and will have one year of eligibility to use in 2015-16.

Victor would be a junior in 2016, which is when Leaf would begin his freshman season. And given what Miller and his staff have accomplished from a recruiting standpoint since their arrival in the Sonoran desert, Arizona’s full 2016 class is a solid bet to rank among the nation’s best when it’s all said and done. Leaf’s commitment is a good start in that regard.