BLOOMINGTON – For 2020 Indiana signee Anthony Leal, the mission since last October was a state championship.
That’s what has made the past two weeks so hard, as the IHSAA first postponed, then canceled the state boys basketball tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic. Leal’s Bloomington South squad entered regional play with a 26-0 record, poised to bring home the school’s first state title since 2011.
Leal hadn’t been checking his phone and was told by one of his friends last week when the state tournament was called off.
“I was just kind of speechless,” Leal said. “I didn’t have a reaction at first, and then it just seemed like all at once a whole bunch of emotions kind of came to me. It was really sad just because we’ve been working so hard this season, and we’ve been perfect up to this point. We had such high aspirations for the rest of the season.”
Leal and the rest of his Bloomington South teammates were recognized Sunday when they were mentioned on ESPN’s SportsCenter for the perfect campaign.
“What we’ve done is really special, and we were the only team to end in the whole state without taking a loss all season,” Leal said. “So it’s definitely something we’re going to look back and be really proud of. That’s also going to be bittersweet because we know we have so much more we could have accomplished.”
So instead of preparing for a possible state title game appearance this week, the 6-foot-4 Leal has spent time at home with his family, watching basketball games, talking to friends and trying to stay in shape to prepare for his freshman year with the Hoosiers. It’s been hard to find gyms that are open, Leal said.
“I’ve just found myself at the park getting shots up or at home doing push ups, doing stuff that’s going to keep me strong and keep my body progressing,” Leal said. “But just trying to stay in shape and stay getting shots up, whenever this is all over, it’s going to help us. It’s going to make me a lot tougher.”
Though Leal sacrificed shot attempts being part of a talented team, he still wound up averaging 18.5 points as a senior at Bloomington South while working on aspects of the game that don’t show up in the box score. Often, Leal took on the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best player.
“I could have gone into each game thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to go for 25 shots and try to just get my stats up really nice,’” Leal said. “But what the team needed me to do is just be a leader and be a guy that can get other people going and also do some of the dirty work and still be able to score points and rebound and all that kind of stuff. So I was just really focused on making sure I could do what my team needed, and I think I did that as well as I could throughout the season.”
Leal was recognized last week as Indiana’s MaxPreps player of the year and is in the running for Indiana Mr. Basketball, which will be handed out in May.
“It’s just a blessing and an honor to be recognized like that for all of my hard work, and I think that it’s something that’s really special, and hopefully they’ll be more to come,” Leal said. “But, at the same time, I really wish we could have finished the state run with my team.”
Leal is keeping in touch with his fellow IU 2020 classmates — guard Trey Galloway and swingman Jordan Geronimo — as often as he can. He’s also been on the phone with 2021 five-star point guard Khristian Lander of Evansville Reitz. A former AAU teammate of both Leal and Galloway, Lander is considering reclassifying to 2020 and joining the Hoosiers next season. Leal and Lander could have squared off in a Class 4A regional championship game in Seymour had the tournament not been canceled.
“He’s going to be a really good fit for IU, whether he’s coming this year or next year,” Leal said. “But I think he’s really athletic, quick. He gets other people open. He can get to the rim. He can finish. He can shoot. He’s just a really all-around good point guard, and I think that he’s going to be able to help a lot.”
With IU coming off a 20-12 season that was cut short due to the pandemic, Leal is excited about the future of the program and contributing next season as the Hoosiers enter Year 4 under head coach Archie Miller.
“Coach Miller and his staff are doing really great, and they are sticking to their vision for what they think is best for the program, and I really believe in that,” Leal said. “They’ve shown their belief in me, and I think that they can continue to recruit the guys that want to be at Indiana and want to be Hoosiers. I think they are going to see a lot more success and that we’re going to be able to hopefully do something special.”