Sean Miller is the last coach you would expect to have problems on the recruiting trail. Since 2011, Miller has propelled Arizona to a finish no lower than No. 6 in 247 Sports' team recruiting rankings. His haul has included one-and-done lottery picks like Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson, a Pac-12 Player of the Year in Nick Johnson and six different McDonald's All-Americans.
In the process, Miller has returned Arizona to its status as a national power. The Wildcats haven't broken through to a Final Four yet, but they've been to three Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in the last five years. It's no coincidence that success on the recruiting trail equates to success on the court.
That's why it was so surprising when five-star forward T.J. Leaf tweeted about decommitting from Arizona Thursday night. Leaf is a consensus top-15 recruit in the loaded class of 2016 -- ranked as high as No. 9 by ESPN. In other words, he's exactly the caliber of prospect Miller is known to get and keep.
As a face-up forward, Leaf's shooting ability would have made for clear lanes to the rim for the type of dynamic guards Miller is likes to bring to Tucson. His ability to stretch the floor or score with his back to the basket would have given Arizona's lineups great offensive versatility.
Leaf's decision to reopen his recruitment is a blow for Arizona, but it's not a death wish. Miller will bounce back, as he always does. What's more interesting is why Leaf chose to decommit. There's already a few intriguing theories floating around.
Leaf left because Sean Miller cut him from the U19 team
Miller was the head coach of USA Basketball's gold medal winning U19 team this summer. The squad was distinct for Miller's decision to select four high school players in the class of 2016 that were ostensibly competing against guys two grade levels above them. While Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and Terrance Ferguson each made the team, Miller decided to cut Leaf.
In a sense, it's admirable that Miller took who he deemed to be the best players instead of catering to one of his recruits. He didn't think Leaf was good enough to make the team, so he sent him home. At the same time, it easily could have upset Leaf and played into his decision to decommit.
Miller could have selected Leaf over a player like Georgetown's L.J. Peak or Virginia Tech's Justin Bibbs without much criticism and just left him mostly on the bench. Instead, Leaf was sent packing along with the likes of fellow top recruit Seventh Wood, San Diego State's Malik Pope, Gonzaga's Silas Melson and more.
After failing to make the cut for the U19 team, Leaf immediately switched national basketball allegiances to Israel, where he starred in the U18 European Championships. Which has led to some speculation that ...
Leaf may play professionally overseas and enter the 2016 NBA Draft
Leaf turned 18 years old in April, which means he should have been in the high school class of 2015, but was held back a year. This is common in high school sports -- Josh Jackson is also a year older than his class of 2016 peers -- and is the reason top players will often "reclassify" once they prove to be commodities on the recruiting trail. Andrew Wiggins, Andre Drummond and Noah Vonleh all once did this, as did incoming Duke point guard Derryck Thornton just months ago.
If Leaf has his academics in line, he could potentially reclassify to the class of 2015 and graduate high school immediately. He could then play for an international club similar what Emmanuel Mudiay did, then enter the 2016 NBA Draft.
It's an unconventional path to just skip a year of high school, and it didn't really work out for Jeremy Tyler. Leaf also isn't considered an NBA prospect on par with some of the class of 2016's other big name recruits. If he wants to start making money ASAP, though, he's likely talented enough to convince a club team to take him.
Of course, Leaf could just also have his eye on another program. UCLA became an immediately trendy pick because of an AAU connection to the Compton Magic. Duke, Michigan, Indiana and Florida were also seriously courting Leaf before he decided to pick Arizona in November.
Whatever the reason for Leaf's decision, it puts one of the best recruits in the country back on the board. If Leaf wants to "pursue other basketball opportunities," as he tweeted, he'll certainly have no shortage of options.