TJ Leaf Introductory Press Conference

June 23, 2017 - Pacers first-round draft pick TJ Leaf is joined by President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard and head coach Nate McMillan for his introductory press conference.

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TJ Leaf Introductory Press Conference

June 23, 2017 - Pacers first-round draft pick TJ Leaf is joined by President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard and head coach Nate McMillan for his introductory press conference.
Jun 23, 2017  |  14:13

TJ Leaf Facebook Live Q-and-A

June 23, 2017 - Pacers first-round draft pick TJ Leaf answers questions from fans during a Facebook Live Q-and-A hosted by Pat Boylan.
Jun 23, 2017  |  09:38

2017 Draft Pick 18: TJ Leaf

The Indiana Pacers select TJ Leaf with the number 18 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Jun 22, 2017  |  01:06

TJ Leaf on Being Drafted by Pacers, Indiana Ties

June 22, 2017 - TJ Leaf speaks with Pacers.com's Greg Rappaport at the Barclays Center after being drafted by Indiana with the 18th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Jun 22, 2017  |  01:33

Draft Workouts: TJ Leaf

May 23, 2017 - UCLA forward TJ Leaf spoke with Pacers.com following his pre-draft workout and talked about his ties to Indiana.
May 23, 2017  |  02:09

Leaf Happy to be "Home" in Indiana

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

The fate of TJ Leaf, the Pacers' latest first-round draft pick, has yet to be determined, but this much is clear: he's one of the most fateful first-round picks in the franchise's history.

His father, Brad, is from Indianapolis and played college basketball at Evansville. His mother, Karen, is from Evansville, and has several family members there. He played at UCLA for coach Steve Alford, who is steeped waist-deep in Indiana's basketball tradition. And that bright blue suit he wore Thursday night? It matched the Pacers' shade of blue as well as anything anyone else wore at the proceedings in Brooklyn.

Needless to say, he's heard a few things about basketball in the state.

"Growing up, that's all (my father) talked about: Indiana, Indiana, Indiana," Leaf said Friday at his introductory press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"Indiana's like a second home to me."

It will become Leaf's first home for the foreseeable future, now that the Pacers have pulled him to Indianapolis by making him the 18th overall selection in the draft. If it's not a match made in heaven, it's at least a match that was made gleefully in the Pacers' draft room.

Team president Kevin Pritchard said Leaf was at the top of all the scouts' lists of realistic candidates for the team's selection, a consensus pick that made him a little uncomfortable.

"I got a little nervous for this draft, because as I wrote those names out and our scouts started to do the rankings, every single time they put TJ first," Pritchard said. "We've never had that. As we start the draft, it was interesting because we were sort of holding our breath.

"I feel like we got a top 10 pick in this kid."

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, the Leafs were holding their collective breath, too. TJ diplomatically said Friday he would have been happy to go anywhere, but that Indiana was one of his leading choices. Brad was more definite, leaving no doubt about his preference.

"He's brainwashed," he said of TJ "He's heard Indiana from me, his mom, from whenever he could start dribbling a basketball. I know he wanted to come here and we wanted him to come here. As a player, you can choose your high school and you can choose your college, but you can't choose your NBA team. He got all three.

"Everybody knew where we wanted to go."

Brad Leaf was born and raised in Indianapolis, and lived at 71st and Keystone. He attended several Pacers' games as a kid, and recalls getting autographs from Rick Mount, Billy Keller, Darnell Hillman, and "probably" George McGinnis.

He played high school basketball at Lawrence North, transferring there from North Central during his junior year in school. He began the season with North Central and played off the bench as late as Dec. 10, but by the start of the next semester he was showing up in box scores for Lawrence North. His father orchestrated the move in search of more playing opportunity for his son, a move that would not be legal today. In fact, Leaf believes his move inspired the IHSAA to clarify its transfer rules.

It paid off, though. Leaf, a 6-5 guard, led all Marion County scorers as a senior at Lawrence North in 1978 with a 25.5-point average. Ben Davis' Randy Wittman was second. He took a scholarship to Evansville and became an all-conference player there, and then a seventh-round draft pick of — of course — the Pacers in 1982.

He didn't last long enough in training camp to play in any exhibition games, but had a 17-season professional career in Israel, where TJ was born. The Leafs spent their offseasons in Indianapolis during those years, although TJ wasn't born until late in his father's playing career.

Brad Leaf, who coached TJ in high school outside of San Diego, endorsed a similar switch for his son in search of opportunity. TJ originally gave a verbal commitment to Arizona but switched to UCLA because he and his father believed Alford's style of play would suit TJ's game. That, too, seemed to work out, as he led UCLA in scoring (16.3 points per game) in his only season with the Bruins while shooting 62 percent from the field and 47 percent from the 3-point line.

He solidified his appeal to the Pacers in his pre-draft workout. Matched up against Moses Kingsley of Arkansas, he displayed a versatile game that convinced the Pacers he can score from anywhere on the court, handle the ball well, and excel as a playmaker with his passing ability.

"I think he's really comfortable both inside and out," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "When we bring guys in to work out, we try to put them in situations where they have to read and react. We put them in situations where they have to switch, guard both big and small, and show versatility.

"Right away in the hour I had to see him in that workout, I got a good feel that his basketball IQ was very high."

Although Leaf is regarded as an athletic finesse player, the Pacers believe he'll fill out as he matures and make use of his natural aggression. He averaged 8.2 rebounds at UCLA, a half-rebound short of leading the team.

He considers himself "stronger than people think," and looks forward to getting back in the weight room.

"He goes and gets dirty rebounds," Pritchard said. "When there's multiple players around, he's not afraid to go get it. He's not afraid to play physical."

"He's quiet, but he's a fierce competitor," Brad Leaf added. "He's one these guys who's really quiet, and you might think he's passive, but he's not. It's just his personality. He's quiet, but he wants to destroy you."

Dad also says TJ is an underrated defender, the area where NBA scouts believe TJ will struggle most at first. Dad also believes TJ is a late-bloomer physically, as he had been, and will naturally become stronger and quicker.

Dad's biased, of course, and only time will tell. For now, Brad Leaf is just happy his son is heading to his virtual home.


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

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