Days after Miller began closing the book on the heralded 2015 class, he's back at it again by earning the commitment from the 15th-ranked member of his class, by ESPN's rankings. T.J. Leaf, a 5-star forward prospect out of El Cajon, Calif., gave his verbal commitment to the Arizona Wildcats on Wednesday, making him the first unofficial member of Sean Miller's 2016 class.
A 6'9 forward who has a bit of weight to gain at 205 pounds, it is Leaf's skill that has him so highly-ranked. The Foothills Christian High School prospect told ESPN recruiting reporter Jeff Borzello that Arizona's recent success in developing and helping to market versatile combo forwards had a bit to do with his decision this early in the process.
"It was a lot of reasons," Leaf told ESPN.com. "For one, I have a great relationship with all the coaches there, including coach [Sean] Miller. That's a big plus. Their style of play, how they use their 4s, interchangeable with their 3s, that's what I want. And I have the opportunity to come in and make an impact as a freshman."
While T.J. McConnell has been Point Guard U's first point guard that comes with stability in the Miller era, the Wildcats have been Combo Forward U since their current coach arrived from Xavier.
Derrick Williams went No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft, though he's struggled mightily to find his NBA niche -- that he was a power forward playing center might have skewed how he's translate to the NBA but that's another story. Aaron Gordon earned the right to play small forward last year before he was forced into more of a power forward role once Brandon Ashley went down with a foot injury, and Ashley likely will battle the perception of being a combo forward once he declares for the draft.
Leaf, however, is already well on his way to becoming the next in line. ESPN Insider's scouting report compares him to current Stanford forward Rosco Allen and Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons. It also throws a more reasonable and familiar name out there for UA fans by comparing him to Ricky Anderson.
Arizona will need a power forward two seasons from now. Next year, a potential departure by Ashley leaves the starting spot open to Ryan Anderson, the Boston College transfer sitting out this year because of NCAA rule, but he has one year of eligibility left. Craig Victor, who himself might be a combo forward with a little more seasoning, could be eating up quite a few minutes two years from now, but Leaf will certainly be in position to earn a good deal of playing time.
Victor, Dusan Ristic (if he doesn't develop into an NBA pick in the next two years) and project big man Chance Comanche, the center from the 2015 class, will likely make up the frontcourt.
Leaf is just the second committed player from the entire 2016 class, and Miller is off to a hot start on his next class once again.