T.J. Leaf is a 6-foot-10 rookie forward with the Indiana Pacers. He was drafted with the No. 18 overall pick after one season at UCLA. He was born in Israel, where his father, Brad Leaf, was playing professionally. T.J. was later coached by his dad at Foothills Christian (Calif.) High. He is averaging 6.0 points through the first eight games with the Pacers. Here is our quick Q&A with Leaf.
Q: You’re officially an NBA player. How’s it going?
A: It’s going well. I’m definitely still getting a feel for it, but I’ve also been getting a lot more comfortable. It’s been a lot of fun so far.
Q: One year of Division I ball to the pros the next year. Differences?
A: It’s a lot different. It’s a different game. For one, guys are a lot stronger because they’re a lot older. I’m playing against guys that are 10-15 years older than me. That’s a big adjustment. They know a lot of tricks that you don’t know as a rookie. So it’s definitely different, but I’m looking forward to learning all those new things. It’s been a great experience.
Q: When did you think you could make it to the NBA?
A: Well, when you’re really young, that’s always the dream. But I would say I began to think it was reality about the end of my junior year of high school.
Q: You’re from California. You’re playing in Indiana now. What’s life been like as a Pacer?
A: It’s been great so far. Obviously, being familiar with the state and having friends and family close by really helps. The organization is a good fit. It’s going to be a fun first year for sure.
Q: You played with Lonzo Ball at UCLA. He’s all the rage with the Los Angeles Lakers. Do you keep in touch?
A: I talk to him probably once every two weeks. We’re obviously busy. I follow the whole NBA, so yeah, I definitely follow him and check up on him. He’s doing well, given everything. You can’t expect him to be getting triple-doubles right away. It’s a process and it takes time. He will be fine.
Q: Unlike UCLA, you are now facing the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and established NBA All-Stars almost nightly. Does that cause any nervousness?
A: Not really. Before the game, before the action happens, maybe. But once the ball is tossed up, you’re just trying to compete, no matter who it is. This is the NBA. You have to be competitive.