Every day, 500 3-pointers sink through the net for Indiana freshman Anthony Leal.
That’s during practice or his own time, because the Bloomington South alum has only registered one in a game, a non-conference contest versus North Alabama. Leal’s opportunities haven’t been many, which is to be expected for most players early in a college career.
But what has become an expectation is that Leal will hit those 500 3s, every day, on his own time, putting himself in a position to capitalize on his chance when it arrives.
“Trying to hold myself accountable to do that every day, because I know it’s not only going to make me a better shooter, but it’s going to increase my confidence,” Leal said. “I think that’s the biggest issue, just to be confident in my game. Confident in what got me here.”
The 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball’s work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed. On multiple occasions, IU coach Archie Miller has praised Leal for working so hard, proving that he cares so much. The hometown hero has been on the cusp of more minutes, as Miller has stated over and over, and Leal might have a chance for some extended run in the next couple of games.
In a win over Maryland, sophomore guard Armaan Franklin rolled an ankle, making him doubtful for IU’s road trip to Wisconsin tonight. After getting just five minutes in his Big Ten debut at Illinois, Leal logged 12 in a meaningful contest with the Terrapins.
Leal didn’t score. He’s only taken one shot in conference play, a missed 3 versus Maryland. For a player who became accustomed to being “the man” for South the last couple of years, fitting in and letting his role grow naturally over time is just part of the process. Leal just remembers back to his very first game at South as a freshman.
The Panthers only used six players for most of that game. The list included now-Southern Indiana guard Chance Coyle, DePauw forward Josh Hall, and future sidekick and Army guard Noah Jager. Even Alex Franklin, now a pitcher at IU, was in the starting lineup versus Edgewood.
Leal was the one player who came off the bench.
“That was a little bit embarrassing, but it’s just part of the process, and I learned that in high school,” Leal said. “I’m trusting it in college and knowing that, whenever I get in, I have to play my role and play as hard as I can and just do what the coaches and my teammates trust me to do, and that’s just to play as hard as I can and shoot when I’m open.”
There are remnants of Leal’s tutelage at South in his game now, always moving the ball within the Hoosiers’ offense. If he didn’t move the ball in high school, he’d hear J.R. Holmes’ heel pounding the hardwood. South had a very disciplined, set-based approach, so Leal knows all about playing within himself and a system.
Now it’s just about finding his opportunities to shoot. He’s 1-of-6 from the floor thus far at IU, all of those shots coming from beyond the arc. Defensively, Leal also feels his time at South prepared him.
“Our coaches there really prepared us and scouted like college games here, so I feel I’m pretty prepared in terms of the fundamentals and knowing where I need to be and being in the right position,” Leal said. “It’s just a matter of getting stronger and faster for me, because I feel like I have the other stuff down as far as being where I have to be.”
The adjustment this season has, though, been quite unorthodox. Leal, who has attended plenty of games inside a packed Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, has debuted in the cream and crimson to only family members in the stands. His fellow freshmen — Trey Galloway, Khristian Lander, and Jordan Geronimo — make for good companions off the court, but it’s been draining getting up every morning for COVID-19 testing and then going through the rigors of practice.
“We come home from practice, we’re all exhausted,” Leal said. “We eat, we watch TV, we watch sports games, if there’s anything on. Go to sleep, wake up the next morning for testing, go out to eat, go back to practice.”
They are all close. Lander and Galloway were AAU teammates in high school. Geronimo is a New Jersey native who went to school in New Hampshire, but he’s fit in well with their trio.
With Leal’s family in town, Leal was sure to let Geronimo know, if he ever needed anything, they were there. All four freshmen talk often, about basketball or just life.
“That definitely is going to pay off for us in the long run because we are so close off the court and we love to be around each other,” Leal said. “As our roles continue to grow in the program and we start to get older, I think it’s going to really help us.”
For now, it’s just about finding their roles.
Geronimo and Lander have each seen a handful of minutes per game, just a bit fewer than Leal lately. Galloway has had the biggest role of the four, entering the starting lineup for IU’s last three Big Ten games.
Galloway’s early displays as a driver, distributor, and all-around-scrappy player are not at all surprising to Leal. He just remembers suiting up for AAU tournaments, and Galloway never much liked playing lower-ranked squads. He was always the most amped to face the best.
“When you are aggressive and trying to make other people better and only caring about winning, that’s going to make other people better,” Leal said. “I knew what he was capable of … and I’m excited for him.”
Leal is excited to head on the road, too, and see what the Hoosiers can do in Madison. IU hasn’t won there since 1998.
In preparation, Leal will be sinking his 500 3s at practice. Maybe, at some point, he’ll sink one on the Badgers.
“I know we’re all eager, we’re ready to contribute as much as we can,” Leal said. “At the same time, we know it is a process. We know if the opportunity is there and our name gets called, where we need to step up, we’re all ready. We’re all really excited to try and get a win.”