CHICAGO — Finding himself pressured and tired of “all the phone calls and stuff,” T.J. Leaf put a quick end to his recruitment in November 2014.
That’s when, as a high school junior, Leaf told the Arizona Wildcats he was coming.
Then, when Leaf opened up his recruitment nine months later, he found it had all become much worse.
This time, social media blew up with hate even before he pledged instead to rival UCLA.
“It’s a bunch of people who don’t even know, that have no relationship with me,” said Leaf, who will join fellow UCLA signee Lonzo Ball on the West team in Wednesday’s McDonald’s All American Game. “Some of them are really out there. There’s some stuff that you wouldn’t wish on anyone. People get upset in the moment. But it is what it is.”
What it is, ultimately, is something that might toughen Leaf’s skin before he ever experiences a hostile Pac-12 environment, before a ribbing or a slam might come his way at McKale Center.
“I think it definitely does” help, Leaf said. “Tweets or whatever. It doesn’t affect you one bit.”
Leaf committed to UCLA last November and says he always had a strong relationship with coach Steve Alford.
“I think I rushed into it a little bit the first time, and I do regret that,” Leaf said. “Arizona’s a great place and I love it. But it’s not the right fit for me. UCLA is.”
Wing Terrance Ferguson already knew UA coach Sean Miller well from their USA Basketball days together, but his mother didn’t.
So when she joined him for an official recruiting visit to UA last weekend, that might have been as key as anything.
“Terrance told me his mother is the most important person in his life, and she had a great time on the visit,” said Scout analyst Evan Daniels, who is bullish on Arizona’s chances of landing Ferguson. “If she gives a seal of approval, that goes a long way with him. I think Arizona has done a good job of recruiting her.”
UA commit Kobi Simmons, who will play with Ferguson on the East team and opposite Wildcats recruiting target Josh Jackson on Wednesday, says he is hoping Arizona will land two more players to join him in the 2016 recruiting class.
He’s doing his best to make sure that happens, too.
Simmons said he and Jackson were “just kidding” when Simmons introduced Jackson as a “new U of A commit” in a video posted to social media, but that he’s been talking to both Jackson and Ferguson in playful form about Arizona.
Ferguson “announced in another interview that I was the hardest recruiter,” Simmons said. “So hopefully that gets it done. I play like him — shoot it, be an athletic defender. I’d love to have him join me.”
With a foundation of talented freshmen Dejounte “Baby Boy” Murray and Marquese Chriss — plus McDonald’s All American guard Markelle Fultz coming in for 2016-17 — Washington was displaying renewed promise this season.
The Huskies, who finished in a tie for sixth place in the Pac-12 with a 9-9 record, might even have been one of the favorites to win it next season.
Except, well, Fultz won’t be playing with Murray and Chriss. They decided last week to take off for the NBA, a decision Fultz isn’t holding against them.
“That’s their goal, and I’m happy for them,” Fultz said. “With all they did, all they put in, that was their goal, to get to the NBA. They did a good job getting there so I’m just happy for them.”
Fultz said he still believed the Huskies have plenty of talent and that he’s preparing to assume a leadership role immediately. Washington also lost point guard Andrew Andrews, who ran out of eligibility.
“With me coming in, I’ve got a lot more to do now,” Fultz said. “I’m not worried about it. I know I’ll be fine. I just want my team to win.”