It is NBA draft time, and the Indiana Pacers selected UCLA forward TJ Leaf with the No. 18 overall pick.
What makes this particularly interesting to me and likely most of you is he was born and raised in Israel, making him just the second Israeli-born NBA player in history. And although not Jewish, he considers Israel his homeland.
T.J. is not Jewish. He was was born in Tel Aviv in 1997, two years before his dad called it quits from basketball and returned to the states. “There was the Lebanon War and the Gulf War when we were there, but it’s not like what people think,” Brad toldThe Los Angeles Daily News. “We loved it there. The people are great. I didn’t know if we’d ever come back.”
T.J. grew up in San Diego and developed his basketball skills under the supervision of his father, who was also his coach in Foothills Christian High School where he excelled as a top talent. In summer of 2015, when it was time to start looking for a suitable college home—Arizona, Indiana and Oregon were considered before choosing UCLA—Leaf decided instead to go back to his homeland, this time as a member of the Israeli under-18 national team in the European division B tournament. “It grew me up a lot culture-wise and maturity-wise. But it was awesome being there, where I’m from, and just having a good time,” Leaf told Bleacher Report. “It was just a fun trip, and I’d love to do it again.” This fun trip turned out to be a success as he led his new friends to the finals by averaging 16.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Leaf managed to duplicate these numbers a year later as a freshman in UCLA.
He also refers to himself as an Israeli native on Twitter.
Mazal tov TJ, do us proud!