When the Indiana Hoosiers terminated the contract of former head coach Archie Miller, many players had decisions to make regarding their futures.
Through the early parts of the season, it appeared that Anthony Leal may have made the wrong decision.
Okay, truth be told he was never going anywhere, but still, Leal was relegated to the bench and saw minimal minutes. Through the first eight games, the sophomore only got off the bench three times and saw a total of 24 minutes.
Despite taking a back seat to recruits and transfers and being frozen out of the lineup, Leal stayed patient.
“I just try to stay consistent. Keep doing my job every day, and that’s just playing as hard as I can and try to make winning plays, so I think just focusing on that and trying to focus on every day just being the best version of myself that I can be.” said Leal on Tuesday.
“I feel like eventually, you know, all the work’s going to start paying off and slowly has, so I’m excited to see where it keeps going,”
Patience was a virtue for Leal as he received his moment in the 68-55 win against Nebraska. When the Hoosiers’ starting unit was not producing and trailed the Cornhuskers by 10, head coach Mike Woodson turned to Leal to enter the game to make a difference. And, he succeeded.
The former three-star recruit was an instant spark plug as he fired a lead pass through a tight window of defenders to Tamar Bates for a fast break score. On the following possession, he positioned himself perfectly for an open three-pointer that he nailed.
The 2020 IndyStar Mr. Basketball award winner ended the game with three points, a steal, a rebound, and two assists– he should have had three if a pass didn’t slip through the hands of Bates– and a season-high 12 minutes off the bench. The sharpshooter is now shooting 4-of-6, or 66.7 percent, from the 3-point line.
“Most of it’s just mental and staying mentally locked in and prepared and trying to bring as much energy on the bench as I can, so that can translate onto the court whenever I get in,” Leal said of how he prepares for helping his team off the bench.
He has even adjusted his practice routine to emulate him coming off the bench. Instead of warming up before starting a practice, he will get right into them to simulate his shooting from when he checks in to the game.
“That’ll kind of translate to how it would be in a game, where if I come off the bench and the first time in, I need to shoot the shot then I got to be ready to shoot, so that’s kind of my mentality,” said Leal.
Even with not receiving the minutes he desired, Leal’s confidence never wandered. This offseason he started reading “Intentional Mindset: Developing Mental Toughness and a Killer Instinct,” by Dave Anderson. One of the many lessons includes focusing on what you can control. The book was one of the many things help to Leal raise his confidence, but not the only.
The Bloomington native and Bloomington South High School alumnus has known nothing but crimson and cream his whole life. He grew up attending games in Assembly Hall and admired Jordan Hulls from the stands. His simple appreciation for the Hoosier fanbase has lifted the pressure off of his shoulders.
“Honestly, the confidence has just come from me kind of taking a step-back and understanding where I’m at, and the blessing that I’m in. Because when I was a kid, I’m dreaming about being exactly where I’m at right now,” said Leal.
“So, I got to have some perspective about that and just understand that every day I get to put the jersey on, it’s a blessing. So, I might as well have as much fun as I can with it.”
Leal hopes the fun continues in Madison, Wisc. on Wednesday, a place where he scored a freshman season high nine points last year on three 3-pointers. But while he had a minor breakout in that contest, as a long-time IU fan, he knows the program’s story has been much different at the Kohl Center.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve won there,” he said.
Nearly 24 years to be precise.
Perhaps like Leal, the payoff for a lot of patience and hard work by Indiana is coming on Wednesday night.
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