T.J. Leaf after his first NBA practice: ‘It’s definitely a big adjustment’

T.J. Leaf has been working months for this day. He knew he would get drafted, but he didn’t know when or to what city. After the draft, summer league, and trying to learn his new teammates on the fly, Leaf was on the court for the first official practice of the 2017-18 season Tuesday morning.

“It’s definitely a big adjustment,” he said, coming to the NBA after just one year at UCLA. “The game is lot quicker, everyone’s stronger, faster, the shot clock is shorter, and the 3-point line is a lot farther, so there’s a lot of big differences.”

There are only six players back from last year’s team and 14 additional players in camp (20 total), so this is new for every one. On top of that, they’re holding camp for their time in their beautiful new $50 million facility across Delaware Street from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“None of us have really known each other,” Leaf said. “I know some of these guys vaguely, but nobody has really known each other at all so we’re just trying to get a feel for each other and in playing pick-up, have a feel for everyone plays.”

The Pacers have clean bill of health, excluding the rookies. Ike Anigbogu is healthy but has not yet scrimmaged. Edmond Sumner, who suffered a torn left ACL in January, is rehabbing and is expected to return in December or January, per team president Kevin Pritchard.

And T.J. Leaf didn’t participate in full-court games over the last month due to a knee injury. “He’s cleared to go. He’s 100 percent now,” Pritchard said at media day.

“I just had a little bit of swelling,” Leaf explained. “I think it started in pre-draft, just doing so much work to get ready for it. But I’m back right now in full force and ready to play.”

[Agness’ Observations: Pacers Training Camp 2017]

While he took it easy, he still worked daily in the weight room adding about seven pounds. “I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger already,” he said confidently. He also got shots up.

“I just wasn’t allowed to play live, basically.”

What he was able to do was settle in prior to his rookie season. He lives a block from the St. Vincent Center, a wise decision. He’s eating a lot cleaner, a lot healthier, and a lot more — in part due to hiring a personal chef, his sister-in-law.

“The last couple of months, going up to the draft was kind of a whirlwind,” he said. “After that, just knowing where I’m going to be, getting settled and getting comfortable with all of the guys, it’s been a lot of fun.”

Leaf, who is just 20 years old, has talked to coach Nate McMillan some about his role but he understand he’s got to be patient. He has to fall in love with the process and focus on development, something Pritchard has stressed to the entire team.

“I think I fit right in. … It’s just basketball at the end of the day.”

Their first exhibition game is in one week — on Wednesday, Oct. 4 in Milwaukee.

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