If you ask folks in or around the IU basketball program who the hardest worker on the team is, the answer is fairly consistent.
Since departed guard Al Durham perhaps said it best in January.
“Anthony (Leal) works his behind off,” Durham said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. When I tell you he works his behind off. I really mean it. When you look up a hard worker, it’s him.”
Of course representing the IU program means something altogether different to Leal than anyone else on the team. The Bloomington native has been a fan of Indiana basketball since he was a young boy, and to not work hard now that he is a part of it is to dishonor everything he has dreamed of since that fandom began.
Leal has more going in his favor than just his work ethic. He believes the new playing style brought in by coach Mike Woodson will be a good match for his strengths on the basketball court.
“I’m excited,” Leal said at IU basketball’s media day. “I think my playing style fits well with Coach Woodson you know shooting balls playing defense all that type of stuff so I’m just excited to get out there and really get to showcase what I can do.”
The 6-foot-5 and 205 pound Leal didn’t play a great deal in his freshman season. He appeared in 20 games and averaged 11.6 minutes in those contests. He had a breakout game at Wisconsin when he scored a season-high 9 points in 34 minutes of action. All of those points came from behind the 3-point line, as did 27 of his 32 points on the season. Leal shot 30 percent (9-of-30) from long range on the season.
When asked about breakout players, Woodson mentioned Leal as someone who can make a jump. The sophomore has great looking shot mechanics and there is little doubt that he could become a perimeter shooting specialist on this team. He had a 10 game run where he made 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) from behind the arc. Any kind of sustained shooting approximating that level of accuracy at a higher volume will make him difficult to keep out of the rotation. But whether he can add other elements might also determine just how much he sees the floor.
Same goes on the defensive end, where Leal has shown he can be a sturdy, physical defender. But the extent to which he can stay in front of quick guards as the schedule grows more difficult will be something to watch.
Where the limits are to Leal’s potential isn’t clear just yet, but expect him to work until he finds them. Wherever his ceiling is, he’ll reach it.
And expect him to be a strong presence off the court as well. As the local guy, Leal’s teammates tend to lean on him a bit more than most, and that is just fine for the program torchbearer.
“I know my way around town pretty well so like especially when you guys first got here I was telling them you know where to go get a haircut and stuff like that so just being able to help them with small stuff and just keep growing in our bond together,” Leal said of his unique role with the team.
Leal projects to be in a battle for playing time with multiple of those teammates, including Trey Galloway, Parker Stewart and Tamar Bates.
But however that plays out, he has made it clear why he chose to stay home and play for the program he used to watch with his family from center court, opposite side of the benches, about 20 rows up.
It is another way he is aligned with Woodson — they are here for the same reason — and it is all about the program.
“I want everybody to know that I’m here for the school and for the program and for this jersey,” Leal said. “No matter who the coaches are or who my teammates are, I’m here and I’m here to win. That’s the ultimate goal.”
MORE 2021-22 IU BASKETBALL PLAYER PREVIEWS:
- Xavier Johnson can change the game with his speed.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis can improve even without the jump shot and right hand
- Race Thompson is expected to shoot the ball
- Michael Durr gives IU much-needed size
- Logan Duncomb plans to hustle his way to floor
- Khristian Lander in a good environment to develop and reach his potential
- Miller Kopp can help cure what has ailed IU from 3-point range
- Trey Galloway can thrive in Indiana’s new offensive system
- Rob Phinisee hoping to pull it all together in year four
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