Indiana Basketball: How much can Anthony Leal improve?

How much can Anthony Leal improve this season? One thing is certain, Anthony Leal is one of those guys that Indiana fans love to root for. An Indiana kid who played his high school basketball right across town at Bloomington South. Anthony is a hometown hero who played his way to a 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball award and an Indiana University scholarship offer.

There was almost a sigh of relief when Leals committed to the Hoosiers instead of heading off to Stanford, who was the other half of his final two. It didn’t seem likely, but it would have been easy for him, knowing the pressure that comes with playing at Indiana, to head off to sunny California and play where the lights aren’t quite so bright. But that’s just not the kind of young man Anthony Leal seems to be.

Further evidence of that came this spring when former Indiana coach Archie Miller was fired after four subpar seasons in Bloomington. Player after player’s name went into the transfer portal as Scott Dolson searched for Archie’s replacement. Keeping their options open, is what we were told. And I get that. If they weren’t a fit with the new coach or the new coach’s system, it might have been a good idea to move on. You can’t really blame a kid for that. It just makes practical sense.

However, there were a couple of names that never went into the portal. Trey Galloway and, you guessed it, Anthony Leal.

During that tumultuous time, Leal reportedly told Tipton Edits, “Hoosier for life. Born and raised and that’s never going to change.” Another Tweet quoted him as saying, “I’m staying and I believe in IU basketball and I trust in everything that is going to happen in the future.”

And with those words, Anthony Leal endeared himself forever to Hoosier fans everywhere. That’s how Indiana fans want to imagine every Indiana kid that comes to Indiana would feel. Of course, that is not reality. Most kids don’t grow up in the shadows of Assembly Hall and Indiana University like Anthony did.

I did, just down the road in Bedford. I grew up playing basketball and dreaming of playing for the Hoosiers. I wasn’t nearly that good, but I dreamed of it anyway. I was particularly smitten by Indiana because I was just a few years younger than Damon Bailey.

As an elementary student at Shawswick School when Damon was in junior high, I just so happened to be in the gym that infamous night when Bob Knight came to watch Damon for play the first time. At that point, there was no way around me being a Hoosier fan for life.

That is why when I heard what Anthony Leal said about being a Hoosier for life, I’m not going to lie, I loved it. I feel that way too, as a fan.

All of that aside, let’s talk basketball now. I think that it is safe to say that we all would have liked to have seen a little more production from Anthony in his first season. When you come in as an Indiana Mr. Basketball, the expectations are set pretty high. I don’t think any of us expected him to only average 1.6 points per game, and only get 30 three-point shots up the whole season.

On the 30 that he did shoot, he made 9. But honestly, that is not even enough shots to be considered a legitimate sample size.

On a team that was so desperately in need of outside shooting, I could not for the life of me figure out why, early in the season, Leal was only getting up one or two threes a game.

Yes, it was a weird, abbreviated non-conference slate. But still, this is one guy on the team that we know is a natural-born shooter, and that is one area that Indiana knew they needed immediate contributions. Yet, Archie did nothing schematically to put Leal in a position to get consistent open looks early on, so he could gain confidence going into the Big Ten season. I think that was a huge mistake.

I am still convinced that Anthony Leal is a knock-down shooter, and given the chance, he is going to shoot them at a nice clip. He also has great size for a guard, at 6-5, which should help him get his shot off over smaller guards.

My focus so far has obviously been on Leal as a three-point shooter. That is because of the 32 field goals he attempted, 30 of them were three-pointers. And he only got to the free-throw line five times, making three. It’s safe to say that he was pretty one-dimensional as a freshman.

I am really hoping that Leal has spent the summer not only honing his three-point shot even further but also working on a mid-range game. With his size, at 6-5, 210 lbs there is no reason that he shouldn’t be able to get some stuff going to the basket. Or at least some pull-ups inside the arc.

Anthony Leal #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

He seems to be a decent ball handler. Again, it is a pretty small sampling size, but he did have 20 assists against 11 turnovers. That’s not a bad ratio.

Leal also grabbed 9 steals. So what, right? Well, let’s give that some context. He had 9 in 232 minutes. Rob Phinisee had 22 in 731 minutes. You do the math.

Beyond what I have mentioned above, it is hard to extrapolate much else out of the numbers from Anthony’s freshmen season numbers. It is my opinion that he was misused and/or under-used by Archie Miller.

The good news is, because of the NCAA’s decision to basically make last year not count against player’s eligibility, Anthony Leal just essentially got a redshirt year as a freshman, that he got to play in. The best of both worlds you might say. So, at this point, he has a fresh slate with a new (and much better) coaching staff, and a year under his belt that didn’t cost him a thing. You can’t beat that.

My honest expectation is that Leal will be one of the most improved players in the Indiana backcourt this season. I expect a nice little jump from him, a jump that will make him a valuable contributor off the bench for Coach Woodson.

I know this, this Hoosier for life is going to be rooting for him like crazy.