Ishmael Leggett is a bright spot for the Rhody Rams (Photo: URI Athletics)
By KEVIN WEHNER
There aren’t many better places to soothe the mind than the view from Watch Hill in Westerly.
When Ishmael Leggett isn’t diving after loose balls or firing 3-pointers from the corner, that’s where the URI freshman enjoys sitting on a sandbank, taking in the brisk ocean air and intently listening to the waves roll in.
“I just go out there and sit, listen to the waves and enjoy life for what it is. Not think about anything else and clear my head,” Leggett, 18, said of his favorite off-the-court hobby.
Leggett will need a clear head Thursday as he’ll be expected to play an integral role if the Rams are to keep their season alive in a difficult Atlantic 10 Tournament game against Dayton. He’s going to help fill a hole in
the backcourt as senior Jeremy Sheppard is out for Thursday afternoon’s game due to injury. The Rams and Flyers split their regular season meetings with each side taking the win at its respective home court but this matchup is all about survival.
That’s why keeping a clear head is something that continues to benefit the freshman as he’s welcomed an ever-increasing role with Rhody throughout his freshman season.
“There’s a lot of things that can clog my brain. So I just like to go places and relax to have a new mental state going into the next day or the next game.” Leggett said.
The challenges of this 2020-21 college basketball season span far beyond breaking a full-court press or neutralizing a prolific three-point shooting team. Abiding by COVID-19 guidelines has been an essential part of every team’s game plan.
“At the beginning it was more difficult just getting used to keeping your circle small. As the days and months went on during the season we really got used to it to be honest,” Leggett said. “I’d say we’ve adjusted well to the circumstances with COVID-19 and everything.”
The results show that adjustment has paid off as the Rams didn’t have any positive cases or COVID pauses during a regular season where such breaks were commonplace throughout college basketball.
The Washington D.C. native was a 3-star recruit out of Coach David Cox’s alma mater, St. John’s College High School. The Rams brought in 10 newcomers, including six transfers, but Leggett’s play from the start
warranted a spot in the rotation. That role has only grown as the season progressed.
“For me it’s all about confidence. The more I have the better I play,” Leggett said. “Without confidence you don’t really have anything. As soon as my confidence with and without the ball increased, I started
playing very well.”
The increase in confidence has earned him more time on the court. Leggett has played 20 or more minutes in seven of the last nine contests, starting six of them. The confidence boost is visible, as the rookie’s game has evolved on both ends of the floor. The freshman is averaging 6.5 points per game and earned an Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Week award to add to his resume.
He’ll need that confidence boost heading into postseason play. The Flyers boast one of the most experienced backcourts in the country with seniors Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson. The duo was problematic in both meetings during the regular season and own plenty of March experience. Watson netted 22 points in the first meeting against URI and Crutcher matched that total the second time around. Leggett is up for the tall task to keep the
“I’ll do anything it takes to win. That’s pretty much all that matters to me is winning,” Leggett noted.
In the last meeting with the Flyers, Leggett drilled five second half three-pointers that helped spark an 18-point second half comeback that ended in a 93-89 double overtime victory on Feb. 23. He finished with a career-high 18 points.
The Rams are the 10 seed in the Atlantic-10 Tournament and at 10-14 are looking at their first losing season since 2013-14. However, Leggett says not to count out the Rams if they play at their best. Anything can happen in March.
“Going into this A-10 tournament everybody is 0-0. Anybody can beat anybody,” he said. “I feel like if we play as a collective team and we’re all on the same page we’re the best team in the A-10.”