Whatever becomes of the Mike Woodson era of IU basketball, remember the two who didn’t blink

Much was made about the wave of Indiana players who put their names in the transfer portal in the days that followed the firing of former head coach Archie Miller.  There was a new entry seemingly every day as a cloud of uncertainty hovered over the program.

Some stayed, some left, but all made an understandable decision to make sure they knew what their options were in the event they weren’t happy with the new coach, or weren’t welcomed back.  We simply live in a different era.  Blind loyalty to the name on the front of the jersey is largely a thing of the past, after all.

Largely.

Because you can easily recognize and appreciate the logic that went into the various decisions to enter the portal, it becomes all the more noteworthy that there were some who didn’t take that step.  In fact, two players got to work immediately on the rebuilding project.

Lost in the commotion were a pair of in-state products who literally wasted no time announcing their unambiguous intent to remain in Bloomington.  Both players got their message out on Twitter through recruiting insider Joe Tipton less than two hours after the news about Miller broke on March 15.

The rapid delivery of the social media posts, and the method by which they were sent, almost made them difficult to believe.

But they were real.

“Hoosier for life. Born and raised and that’s never going to change,” Anthony Leal said via Tipton.

“I’m staying and I believe in IU basketball and I trust in everything that is going to happen in the future,” was Trey Galloway’s message.

On a day when uncertainty reigned supreme, how could the 2020 classmates and former AAU teammates be so sure?

If there was anyone on the team who was expected to stay through thick and thin, it was Leal, a Bloomington native and lifelong fan of the program.  For him, it simply didn’t matter what the future held for IU basketball.  Leal knew he was going to be a part of the next chapter.

“I wanted everyone to know that I’m here for this school and the program and this jersey,” Leal said on Monday of his quick announcement back in March as he tugged at his uniform.  “No matter who the coaches or my teammates are, I’m here and I’m here to win.  I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew I wasn’t even considering doing anything else besides playing in this jersey.”

Galloway grew up a bit further north, first in Carmel and then Culver, Ind.  He didn’t grow up infatuated with IU in candy striped pants like Leal.  And after his father coached Josh McRoberts in high school, there was even a bit of an attraction to Duke.

But while he may not have had the same lifetime of being a fan pulling at his heartstrings, Galloway’s message sounded very similar to his close friend Leal.

“For me, I trusted (athletic director) Scott Dolson,” Galloway said on Monday.  “I knew he was going to make the right choice, and I was behind him the whole time.”

Immediately after he fired Miller, Dolson got on a Zoom conference with the players.

“He (Dolson) told me to hang tight and trust the process,” Galloway said.  “I had his back and I think that’s one thing that I wanted to show to everyone, that I wasn’t going to leave no matter what.  That was my plan the whole time.”

While Leal and Galloway had no idea who they would have for a coach or teammates when the smoke cleared, they did know two things that could not have made their decision any easier — nothing would be guaranteed when it came to playing time, and the pressure cooker that is the expectations of the fan base would remain no matter what.

Ultimately the pair was joined by many of their teammates from the 2020-21 season, along with a new head coach in Mike Woodson, who shares their local heritage and admiration for the program.

Collectively they have embraced the history, the expectations, and all the warts that come with it.  Woodson talks openly with the team on a regular basis about the greatness that was achieved on their home court.  He has the players look up at the banners that serve notice for what was accomplished.  None of it is intended to place an added burden on their minds, but instead to motivate.

And that message appears to be resonating.

“I don’t think it’s pressure, I think it’s a privilege for us all,” said Galloway, whose actions in March validate those words.

“The history that comes with Indiana basketball, it’s a great experience to be here in this gym every day and compete for what this history holds, and I think that’s one thing coach Woodson came back for is to win banners, and I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.”

And if they do win, those same fans, with those at times irrational expectations, will remember the two who never blinked — and did their part to help hold it all together, just as it started to crumble.


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