Anthony Leal wins Mr. Basketball, leaves South a legend

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South's Anthony Leal (3) dribbles down the court.

John Law, Editor

When Indiana comes to mind, one usually thinks of small towns with cornfields that run for miles. Look a little harder, and you’ll find a basketball goal, a beacon of hope, nailed to the top of nearly every old wooden barn as far as the state border expands. 

Basketball is the warm fire that comforts Hoosiers when the winters get too harsh. The local high school gym is almost equivalent to the city hall, and the coach might have more power than the mayor. 

Finally, there is the star player. Every kid grows up, shooting behind that barn, dreaming of being the buzz of the town. Now Anthony Leal might not have had that barn, but he did have that dream, a dream that would drive him all the way to the pinnacle of Indiana culture: Mr. Basketball.

Leal joins the company of legends such as Oscar Robertson, Steve Alford, Damon Bailey, and Romeo Langford while becoming the second Bloomington South player to ever win the award. Like three of those names, he will be staying in Bloomington to become the hometown hero for the cream and crimson. 

“It’s indescribable just knowing I’m now included in a long list of winners, especially who have ended up at IU. It’s such a blessing, and I’m so thankful,” said Leal.

The buzz about Leal was going around town before he had even left middle school, though. Everyone in Bloomington knew about the Batman-Robin duo he and Noah Jager had going on over at St. Charles and knew they would wreak havoc on Indiana during their four years at South. Then came freshman year, and Leal gave everyone a preview of what was to come by scorching the nets and dropping 21 points on Bloomington North in the sectional. 

Sophomore year would then be the last year he lived in the shadow of Chance Coyle. The full Anthony Leal experience was nearly here.

When December 7th, 2018 arrived, South was just 1-2 with an embarrassing loss to Edgewood and in desperate need of a win. Southport was coming to Holmes Court, along with a certain coach that had just taken the reins of another legendary Bloomington basketball program. Leal had a magical performance that night, dropping 38 points in front of Archie Miller and planting the seed for his future commitment. He went on to average 19.9 points per game on the year and was an Indiana Junior All-Star, but something was still missing.

“Only thing missing was a state championship and that’s what we wanted this year,” said Leal. 

In the past, there was always the regional roadblock of either Romeo Langford or Trayce Jackson-Davis, but this year Leal knew it was his turn to become the roadblock. He didn’t allow that to get to his head, though. 

“It was humbling because I knew the target was on my back this year so it kept me driven and motivated to work even harder,” said Leal. 

However, it was never about being the top guy. Leal could’ve been scoring 25+ points per night if he wanted to, but he knew that if the team were to maximize their potential, he was going to have to get everyone involved. After all, what separates a good basketball player from a great one is how he affects his teammates. 

“Coach Holmes emphasized that to me this year about making sure the whole team was involved, and he was right, it made our team exponentially better. Not to mention, I was surrounded by a bunch of guys who could really play,” said Leal.

Fellow senior point guard Noah Jager could only agree.

“Anthony stepped up as a leader this year and really promoted selfless team basketball. He commited our team to defense and helped us focus on the ultimate goal of winning. This was a well deserved honor.”

With Leal getting everyone involved now, South was able to go 26-0, on track for a state championship before the season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. What would a star player be without the ability to be clutch, though? If Leal didn’t make a big enough statement by hitting a buzzer-beater to take down Floyd Central and end their 31-game home winning streak, he made sure to solidify himself as the front runner for the award when he scored 28 points and hit another buzzer-beater to take down 3A No. 1 Silver Creek and Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year Trey Kaufman.

So now Leal leaves Bloomington South as the program’s all-time leading scorer and arguably the greatest player to ever walk Holmes Court. There are no more awards for him to earn. There are no more buzzers to beat. Anthony Leal will forever be a Panther legend.

“I’ve come a really long way, but I know the best is ahead and I’m thankful for all the support from Bloomington these last four years.”