Snapshots from Anthony Leal’s life tell the story of a Bloomington boy and his love for Indiana basketball.
There is the picture of Leal warming up in a middle school gym, candy-striped pants over his shorts. There is a screen-grab from one of the Hoosiers’ televised games in 2012, a baby-faced Leal sitting courtside with a trio of his rambunctious fifth-grade friends. When his crew posed for a photo with Cody Zeller and Jordan Hulls, they were barely eye-level with Zeller’s chest. Hulls rested his left hand on Leal’s shoulder.
Those players offered an example of pride and passion for a young basketball player to follow — a path that led right back to the object of Leal’s affection.
On Friday, Bloomington South’s 6-foot-5 guard, a player recruiting sites rank as the top prospect in Indiana for 2020 — the boy who dreamed of playing with “Indiana” stripped across his chest — committed to play college basketball at IU.
“It’s something really special,” Leal said. “Especially in a place where it’s my hometown, and I have friends and family around, and young kids I can be there for, to inspire and help impact their lives, just like when I was growing up.”
In many ways, this opportunity is everything Leal could have asked for. But that didn’t make his deliberation between IU and Stanford a simple one. The enormity of his choice was so apparent, he found himself overwhelmed at times. After talks with family, he would end up at Lake Monroe, lying in a hammock, thinking. Clarity came to him this past Sunday at church, praying.
If Leal chose Stanford, he saw an opportunity to earn a uniquely valuable degree, something that could benefit his financial future. If he chose IU, he would be dedicating himself to something less about himself: the rebuilding of a storied basketball program.
Taking on that task, as a Bloomington native, comes with another level of scrutiny from the hometown fanbase. Leal acknowledges it’s a “double-edged sword.” But he believed in his gut that he was meant to be a Hoosier.
“It’s a blessing, but it’s probably going to create some high expectations,” Leal said. “But I’m also kind of looking forward to that, and looking forward to bringing back some of the passion and some of what I grew up with and fell in love with, and what it meant to put on an IU jersey.”
Leal, a four-star recruit, becomes the second member of the Hoosiers’ 2020 recruiting class, following in the footsteps of his AAU teammate, Culver Academies guard Trey Galloway. Both continue a trend of in-state commitments for third-year coach Archie Miller.
They are the sixth and seventh players from the state of Indiana that Miller has secured, not including Butler grad transfer Joey Brunk (Southport).
“We are really glad we can be cornerstones for this deeper meaning he’s been recruiting, as far as the future of Indiana basketball and being able to put that pride and passion back into the jersey,” Leal said.
“At the end of the day, we all shared a similar childhood, growing up in Indiana, where we fell in love with something about the Hoosiers. For me, at least, it was the passion everybody played with, and how hard everyone seemed to play, no matter what was going on.”
It is surreal for Leal to know he will eventually be the one setting a standard. He grew up idolizing Hulls, a South alum, as well as Eric Gordon, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey and Christian Watford. One of Leal’s childhood friends was Dylan McClain, former IU assistant Steve McClain’s son, so he had special access to the Hoosiers much of his life. And that meant a lot of pictures.
He has one with Oladipo. There’s another of Leal and his friends standing at midcourt at Assembly Hall, right above the interlocked I and U. There’s another with Leal and his buddies on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay with Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, and the rest of the crew.
That bright-faced boy couldn’t have imagined such a bright basketball future.
As a junior at South, Leal averaged 19.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for a team that advanced to a regional title game, falling to Center Grove and eventual Mr. Basketball (and current Hoosier) Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Leal held scholarship offers from several Big Ten schools, including Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, and Northwestern, as well as Xavier and Butler. He received his offer from IU during an in-home visit April 29, the same day Galloway personally received his from the Hoosier coaching staff.
Galloway committed two weeks ago, the day after Leal trimmed his list to just Stanford and IU.
“It was a plus if I were to go there,” Leal said. “But it wasn’t anything where I felt obligated to or anything like that. We both knew throughout the process, even before he committed, we were going to have to make decisions on our own.”
The prospect of playing with Galloway was exciting, but so too was a chance to remain in Bloomington for a few more years.
Not only will friends and family be able to attend his games, but he will be close enough to get away and watch his older sister, Lauren, a basketball player at DePauw, when the schedule allows. Miller made a point to tell him he could.
Lauren and Anthony are especially close siblings, as the latter helped comfort the former through multiple knee injuries during her career at South. Now she can watch him play at Assembly Hall, where he has suited up before.
Before high school, Leal would play in St. Charles School’s “Hawks in the Hall” tournament. Their mother, Sherry, has pictures of Anthony throwing up shots from behind Assembly Hall’s 3-point line as a youngster.
It will be quite different when he’s wearing an IU jersey.
“Watching him walk out there for the first time, I can only imagine how much pride we’re going to have,” Lauren said.
“There are going to be a lot of tears,” Sherry said.
“Growing up, sitting in the bleachers, now walking in and being there?” Lauren added. “It’s going to be so cool.”
Assembly Hall will be his home.
And there is only one way Leal wishes to alter his environment.
“Just win at the highest level,” Leal said, “and maybe even hang another banner before my four years are over.”