BLOOMINGTON – As snow flurries fell outside on Halloween, Indiana star 2020 commitment Anthony Leal was at work in the Bloomington South basketball gym, firing up a variety of shots after practice.
On some, the 6-foot-5 Leal mimicked coming off screens. There was a turn-around 3-pointer and a few step-back shots from 21 to 22 feet, ones Leal hopes to perfect by the end of his senior season.
Leal, the second of three players to commit to IU’s 2020 freshman class, will make it official when he signs a National Letter of Intent during next week’s November signing period. Bloomington born and raised, Leal will become IU’s first hometown player of note since another former Bloomington South standout, Jordan Hulls, donned the Candy Stripes during a successful four-year IU career. Hulls scored 1,318 points for the Hoosiers from 2009-13 and was part of back-to-back Sweet 16 teams in 2012 and 2013.
Leal said Hulls was the player he looked up to most as a young teen going to games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“Those teams were really special to watch, and it was awesome to see how they brought Hoosier Nation together,” Leal said. “I hope that, hopefully, the team I’m on at IU can do the same.”
Hulls, playing professionally overseas in Germany, is now serving as mentor to Leal, always a phone call away when needed. Leal said the two don’t talk every day, but Hulls has offered advice, including how to deal with the pressures of being a hometown star going to IU.
“I’ve talked to Jordy,” Leal said. “As far as pressure, I don’t really think that that’s something I’m worried about because I know that I’m doing what I need to do to prepare, so there’s not really anybody that can put pressure on me but myself, and as long I don’t do that, I think it will be fine.”
For Leal, the fascination with basketball began at a young age. Sherry Leal, Anthony’s mother, said Anthony used to sleep with a Michael Jordan basketball in his crib.
“If he didn’t have a ball in his hands, he was probably sleeping or doing homework,” she said.
There was a hoop in the family driveway, and Leal and his older sister, Lauren, now a sophomore basketball player at DePauw, played one-on-one games on summer and winter days, through rain and ice storms. Sherry Leal has saved the videos of some of those contests, referring to them as the “Leal family one-on-one tournaments.”
“It was a constant thing,” Leal’s father, Martin, said. “The snow is one thing you kind of brush off the driveway, you shoot and you know the net is a little brittle with ice. When it’s raining, those are kind of humorous.”
The strong family roots were a pull in Leal in staying home. But Stanford was a strong option. A 4.3 GPA student at Bloomington South, Leal was drawn to Stanford’s strong academic reputation, along with the chance to play in the Pac-12. Both of Leal’s parents work for the IU Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm, but Martin said the family would have adjusted had Leal decided to play on the West Coast.
“We wavered back and forth until the very end,” Sherry Leal said. “One day it was, ‘yes.’ One day it was, ‘I don’t know.’ We had a lot of family counsel with the four of us. A lot of tears were shed and a lot of soul searching. It came down to Anthony was thinking he wants to stay home, and we understand and he understands the tradition of IU basketball.”
With the decision set, Leal is turning his focus to his high school senior season, which begins Nov. 26. A state championship, Leal said, is the ultimate goal. Bloomington South last won a state title in 2011 and won one in 2009 with Hulls in the backcourt.
Winning Mr. Basketball is another goal for Leal. If Leal achieves that feat, he will become the third straight Mr. Basketball going to IU, joining Romeo Langford (2018) and Trayce Jackson-Davis (2019).
“It would be an honor,” Leal said. “I personally would rather have a state championship ring over Mr. Basketball, but I think that those two can go hand-in-hand to where if my team is successful and I’m being a good leader and, you know, we make it far in the tournament, there’s a chance that I could be both.”
Leal said he’s pleased with how IU’s 2020 class is coming together. Trey Galloway, an AAU teammate with Indiana Elite, joined the class a few weeks before Leal committed. Like Leal, Galloway is a versatile 6-5 wing player from within the state, and the two have established chemistry on and off the court.
“It’s definitely going to keep growing,” Leal said. “I think when we come to IU as roommates and teammates, our chemistry and just our passion for IU and the basketball game itself, I think it’s going to make both of us better but also make our team better and hopefully have some success.”
IU added another athletic wing player, 6-6 forward Jordan Geronimo from Newark, N.J., in September. The next piece to the class could be 6-11 four-star forward Dawson Garcia, who visited IU last week. Garcia, from Prior Lake, Minn., is visiting Marquette this weekend and has narrowed his choices down to Minnesota, Marquette and Indiana. Leal met with Garcia during his IU visit.
“He enjoyed himself,” Leal said. “Me and Trey got to hang out with him for a little while. He had a good time, and hopefully we can finish that up and secure him.”
Like Hulls, who led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage during his IU career, Leal is a long-range shooter, who shot 51.1 percent from 3-point range as a high school sophomore and 38.2 percent from beyond the arc last season. Leal said his routine is to make 500 3-pointers per day. For an IU roster devoid of a knock-down shooter (the Hoosiers ranked 316th out of 351 Division I teams, shooting 31.2 percent last season), Leal will be a welcome addition.
But Leal plans to work on other facets of his game this season, including handling the ball, defense and, most importantly, leadership.
“I’ve become a lot more vocal,” Leal said. “I was kind of a quieter, laid back dude as a freshman, kind of scared, you know, upperclassmen, all that stuff, but as I matured and got more confident, I think that made the teams I was playing on better but also made myself better.”
Sherry and Martin Leal are both proud to have the second of their two children preparing to play college basketball. On Leal handling hometown pressure, Sherry recounted a family morning breakfast at the Village Deli in Bloomington, shortly after her son committed to IU. Sherry noted the patrons, who were IU fans, nodding to him. Anthony nodded back.
“He takes it in stride,” she said. “And, he’s, yeah, he’s very humble and very thankful, and he’s just going to ride this journey, ride this wave because it’s pretty awesome.”