UCLA's TJ Leaf to leave after 1 season for NBA draft

LOS ANGELES (AP) TJ Leaf is leaving UCLA for the NBA draft, joining fellow freshman Lonzo Ball in departing after one stellar season in Westwood.

Leaf plans to hire an agent. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward from El Cajon, California, is projected to be a lottery pick in the June 22 draft.

He averaged a team-leading 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 62 percent from the field and 68 percent from the free-throw line.

''It was definitely one of the hardest decisions of my life,'' Leaf said Thursday. ''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.''

Ball confirmed his departure after the Bruins (31-5) lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last week. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.6 assists.

The Bruins also lost seniors Bryce Alford (15.5 points) and Isaac Hamilton (14.1 points).

Coach Steve Alford will have to replace four-fifths of his starting lineup next season. Junior center Thomas Welsh (10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds) has not indicated his plans. Players must declare for the NBA draft by April 23 and can remove their names until June 12.

Ball arrived in Westwood as an expected one-and-done player. He is in the running for a slew of postseason honors.

Leaf produced outstanding numbers while playing in Ball's shadow.

''TJ had such a great season for us, and I completely support his decision to pursue his dream,'' Alford said. ''He brought so much to our team, both on and off the court, and we're certainly going to miss him.''

Alford has a recruiting class ranked No. 2 in the country coming in the fall, one of the reasons he likely decided to stay after his name circulated for the Indiana job in his home state during the NCAA Tournament.

The class includes McDonald's All-Americans guard Jaylen Hands of San Diego and forward Kris Wilkes of Indianapolis. Hands played for Leaf's father Brad at El Cajon Foothills Christian High. Other signees are forward LiAngelo Ball, Lonzo's middle brother; forward Jalen Hill; and forward Cody Riley.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.