East County Sports

Leaf traded to Thunder; Hands dealt



By Nick Pellegrino


OKLAHOMA CITY – Something has occurred in the professional basketball career of T.J. Leaf that never happened to his father, Brad, who played pro ball overseas for 17 seasons.



He was traded.


On Sunday (Nov. 22), the younger Leaf, a product of El Cajon’s Foothills Christian High and UCLA, was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder from the only NBA club he’s worse a uniform with, the Indiana Pacers.


Leaf, a reserve forward drafted No. 18 overall in 2017, went to the Thunder in exchange for Jalen Lecque.


Leaf failed to secure a significant role with the Pacers, which attempted to deal him before last February’s trade deadline before the league was shut down. He had been out of the rotation since last November when he filled in with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner were both injured.


He has appeared in 22 games, mostly after the outcome had been decided because JaKarr Sampson jumped him in coach Nate McMillan’s rotation.

However, he’ll get a strong opportunity to play for OKC, despite averaging 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds over 7.9 minutes per game while appearing in just 28 contests.


The 6-foot-10 forward was born in Tel Aviv,  Isreal, when his father carded a 17-year career with Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club. This allowed the younger Leaf to compete for Israel’s National Team in the 2015 FIBA Under-18 European Championships, earning tournament MVP honors after averaging 16.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in leading Israel to a second-place finish.


At UCLA, Leaf started 35 games and helped the Bruins reach the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 during his freshman (and only) season in Westwood in 2016-17.


He led UCLA in scoring with an average of 16.3 points to go with 8.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. He Earned First Team All-Pac 12 honors and ranked seventh in the conference in scoring, ninth in rebounding and second in field goal percentage at 61.7 percent on the year.




Leaf’s former teammate, Jaylen Hands, another Foothills Christian graduate in the professional ranks, was traded earlier this week by the Brooklyn Nets organization to the Detroit Pistons.


Hands, who also attended UCLA and played for the Bruins, played 40 games for Long Island, the Brooklyn affiliate in the NBA’s G-League this past season. He started 18 games and averaged just over 11 points per game.


Hands was believed to be a favorite of Nets’ owner Joe Tsai, who saw the former Knights’ star play locally against Bishop’s, where the billionaire businessman’s children attended school.



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