Anthony Leal’s impact on IU basketball extends beyond the court
Anthony Leal sits closest to the coaching staff on the Indiana bench. So when Mike Woodson called his name in the second half of the Harvard game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, he quickly got up and moved toward the scorer’s table without hesitation.
In the sixth game of the season, the senior guard was about to play his first minutes of the year, and they were big, too; IU was only up three at the under-16 timeout without its starting point guard, Xavier Johnson.
The former Indiana Mr. Basketball played solid basketball in six minutes as the Hoosiers increased their lead to seven. And despite not even putting up a shot and only recording one assist and one rebound — Leal gave Indiana mistake-free guard play and showed emotion on the floor, giving IU a spark.
“There was an Anthony Leal sighting last night,” Mike Woodson said on his weekly radio show last week. “I thought he played some positive minutes when we really needed it. There’s a chance he can get some minutes now.”
In the next game against Maryland, Leal provided more of the same — eight solid minutes, a rebound, and an assist. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer, which may have burned Assembly Hall to the ground if it had gone in. You could hear 17,000-plus fans take a deep breath or gasp as the ball rose.
Leal has struggled to find meaningful minutes during Woodson’s time at Indiana. But he hasn’t complained, griped or expressed dissatisfaction with that. If anything, he’s embraced it. The former top-200 recruit understands how to be a leader off the floor and in the locker room.
“It’s very natural to me, but I’ve also had to develop a little bit and get outside my comfort zone and take it to the next level as I’ve grown from freshman to senior,” Leal said in an August interview with WANE 15 News. “I have to be uncomfortable and make myself vulnerable, and talk as much as I can and get the guys together as much as I can because it’s gonna make us a better team.”
The 6-foot-5 guard never even dipped his feet into the transfer portal when Archie Miller was fired after his freshman season. Instead, he proclaimed he was a “Hoosier for life. Born and raised and that’s never going to change.”
Leal might be the most “Indiana” player on the Indiana Hoosiers roster. When he’s off the floor, the Bloomington native is a licensed real estate agent. He promotes his sponsored meal at Mother Bear’s Pizza. He has been named Academic All-Big Ten twice, graduating last May with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation from the Kelley School of Business.
Leal averaged over 10 minutes a game in his first two seasons at Indiana. Since then, the senior has played only 36 minutes. That can be discouraging for a player who was once named the best high school basketball player in the state. But his “stay ready” approach has never wavered. Leal has embraced the challenge of his role, and when he plays, he doesn’t wear any look of nervousness.
“He knows so much and helps our program. He’s huge for the younger guys. He sets a great example because he’s always at practice, always just ready to go,” Trey Galloway said at Big Ten media day. “Having a guy like that is special on your team. At the end of the day when it comes to winning, he’s gonna be one of the guys that impacts it.”
In Leal’s minutes this season, he’s actively been coaching his teammates. He’s pointed things out during pauses and helped his teammates off the floor after big plays.
With IU’s lack of backcourt depth and the injury to Johnson, Leal will find a way onto the floor. He doesn’t need to do much to be adored by the Hoosier fanbase; he’s already done that. But if he wants to be relied on by the coaching staff, his job is to continue leading and playing mistake-free basketball. Making the occasional jumper wouldn’t hurt, either.
Whether he plays or not shouldn’t impact his legacy as a Hoosier. He’s proved enough about his worth to the Indiana basketball program. So Leal will continue observing his coaches by sitting next to them, pursuing his masters and being a good teammate, all with a smile on his face. Leal shows up. He doesn’t envy his teammates who play more. He never felt an ounce of entitlement after being named the 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball. And if you think of traits that make someone worth keeping around, the senior has all of them.
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