Leal puts money where heart is


BLOOMINGTON — From afar, Indiana University hoops fans who are readers of statistics and who don’t really know his background might think Anthony Leal is a typical walk-on who doesn’t play much.

Up close, however, Leal probably cannot walk the streets of Bloomington, on campus or downtown, without being recognized and hailed.

This is the deal with Leal: He was one of the greatest high school basketball players ever for Bloomington South, was an Indiana Mr. Basketball and except for a brief flirtation with Stanford when he was coming out of high school never wanted to enroll in any other school besides Indiana University.

Beyond that, after last year, when he took the Name, Image and Likeness money he accrued for being himself and for being a member of the IU men’s basketball team and paid off his sister’s college loans with it, he has become a nationwide poster boy for good.

Last year, he gave his older sister, Lauren, a surprise Christmas present, generously paying off her student loans. Lauren played college basketball, too, at Indiana’s DePauw University, but that is an NCAA Division III school, which does not give athletic scholarships.

Lauren was shocked into speechlessness when Anthony provided the gift of economic freedom often rare to graduating college students, and she shed tears over his generosity.

A 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior, Leal has long been a fixture in his hometown. He set a Bloomington South scoring record, and once he shelved the idea of attending school at Stanford, he has been an IU guy all of the way, never entertaining the thought of transferring, even under the current collegiate easy-departure/eligibility rules.

Leal might have been a likely candidate for such a move because from a basketball standpoint, college ball has not gone that smoothly for him. A scoring guard in high school, his high school credentials and high school offensive explosiveness have not translated to college play. He has never found much of a niche with the Hoosiers.

Last season, Leal appeared in 11 games, but not with meaningful minutes. As a sophomore, he got into 19 games and averaged 1.9 points per game. As a freshman, he played in 20 games and averaged 1.6 ppg. He has never been the first guy called on when coach Mike Woodson is searching for crucial substitute fill-in time.

While noting that many people asked him about his sisterly payout, Leal has not bothered to read his press clippings that float around online praising him for his unselfishness. He said he understands why his actions have been highlighted.

Many basketball fans and others, he said, believe the NIL payments are just being used to buy “jewelry, clothes and cars.” But he felt his money could be better spent for a good cause, like taking care of family.

Leal can joke about the goody-goody image that has grown out of his actions, though. He laughed when someone asked if this season he might not spend NIL money on something that could contribute to world peace.

World peace. Leal thought that sounded like a good idea. Even though he didn’t actually have a good idea for a cause that might produce such a result.

“I get questions,” Leal said from fans and those close to him about what he might do with new NIL money. He has said, or thought, “If I can do that, I will.”

Actually, Leal has a quiet, in-the-works game plan for using fresh NIL money for Bloomington community-based projects but last week in a preseason hoops media session was not ready to reveal his thinking because things are not ready to go. It is unlikely the fresh ideas revolve around purchasing Gucci suits or Cartier watches for himself.

Leal might well know everyone who is rooted in Bloomington given his own roots, but he probably would prefer if some IU supporters got to know him better for what he does on the court this winter.

Still, as someone who entered the Kelley School of Business, Leal has shown evidence he has learned how to manage his money in a shrewd and positive way. Maybe when he graduates, his degree will state that he majored in philanthropy.

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