In the month of March, Indiana sophomore guard Anthony Leal, a Bloomington native who enrolled at Indiana ranked as the No. 156 recruit in the 2020 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, played just five minutes. All five minutes came in the Hoosiers’ season-ending, blowout loss to Saint Mary’s in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. He finished with two points, both coming at the free throw line, as he ended a seven-game streak of DNPs.
Leal, 6-foot-5, was projected to be someone who could provide outside shooting to a program that has badly needed just that, but he has carved out a role so small that he was classified as “nearly invisible” on kenpom.com, based on his usage rate of 11.7 percent. Leal’s minutes actually decreased as a sophomore, as he went from averaging 11.6 minutes per game in 20 appearances as a freshman to 10.2 per game in 17 contests as a sophomore.
His per-game stats generally looked the same in 2022 as they did in 2021. The advanced stats below are courtesy of kenpom.com.
Leal made two starts last season, in Indiana’s non-conference finale against Northern Kentucky, then in the team’s road loss at Northwestern, when five players were suspended. They were the only games all season when he played at least 20 minutes. He had two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first game and five points on 1-for-5 shooting in second, going a combined 1-for-7 from 3-point range.
He did have nine assists compared to just two turnovers, however, as he showed flashes as a creative passer and secondary playmaker from the wing.
Now, with Leal’s career potentially halfway over — he, of course, could choose to play five seasons in college thanks to the 2021 season not counting against players’ eligibility – he’s arguably at something of a crossroads. In other words, if the 2022-23 season doesn’t prove to be something of a breakout season for Leal, then will such a breakout — to even becoming a consistent reserve capable of playing 15 to 20 minutes a night — ever happen?
Perhaps Leal, the hometown Hoosier who stuck with the program after Archie Miller’s dismissal and who is expected to return for his junior season, is a different class of player, who may not wish to take advantage someday of the opportunities that the one-time transfer exception could offer. In a previous era of college basketball, one that was maybe only five to 10 years ago, there was a more common path for a recruit like Leal, a mid-level three-star recruit who could take two or three years to develop before becoming a productive upperclassman at the school he committed to out of high school.
Today, many players seek out greener pastures through the transfer portal, as is their right.
In addition to Leal, Indiana’s backcourt rotation next season is expected to feature a fifth-year senior point guard in Xavier Johnson, Leal’s classmate Trey Galloway, former five-star recruit and rising sophomore Tamar Bates, plus freshmen Jalen Hood-Schifino (No. 21 nationally in the 2022 recruiting class, per the 247Sports Composite) and CJ Gunn (No. 174).
Fifth-year senior Miller Kopp will occupy a share of the minutes at the “three,” too.
As the 2022 Final Four reminded the men’s basketball world, the best teams in the country can win while only playing five or six or seven players. Not all of the players listed above will earn a steady diet of minutes for the Hoosiers next winter.
So what will keep Leal on the floor?
He made a 3-pointer in five of his first six games last season and his 3-for-6 3-point shooting performance against Wisconsin as a freshman showed a glimpse of what he could be, but through two seasons, he’s 16-for-52 (.307) from deep. That’s too few makes and too many misses in his relatively limited minutes. His defense is nothing to write home about.
He’s a willing and capable passer, especially in transition, and that might be his strongest on-court attribute he’s displayed thus far, but is that alone enough to warrant him a larger role, especially with Johnson, with a 36.7-percent assist rate last season, running the point?
Given that Leal was raised in town and his status as a borderline top-150 recruit, Indiana fans would surely love to see him reach his ceiling while wearing the cream and crimson, and materialize into a dead-eye 3-point shooter. But through two seasons, it remains to be seen what, exactly, that ceiling is and how long it will take him to reach it, with a top-10 freshman class arriving in Bloomington this summer.
SEASON IN REVIEW: Trayce Jackson-Davis | Xavier Johnson | Race Thompson | Jordan Geronimo | Miller Kopp | Khristian Lander