A key returning member of the University of Rhode Island program is sophomore guard Ishmael Leggett. A 6-foot-2, 180 pound combo guard, Leggett is a gritty, team-first talent. He’s a capable ballhandler, shooter, paint touch threat, willing defender, and opportunistic rebounder who outperforms his measurables in mixing it up on the interior.
We caught up for a reflective conversation about the past year and his excitement about the new collection of talent – both on and off the floor – the Rams have welcomed to the program.
Chris DiSano: It’s an obvious starting point, but let’s peel back the curtain on your decision to remain at Rhode Island. You have a strong support system and family… what went into that call for you?
Ish Leggett: Talking to the people in my circle. Seeing what they thought and comparing it to what I thought. Then having a conversation with Coach Archie and everybody on the coaching staff and seeing if they had a plan for me. The coaches knew where I could be as opposed to where I was. And they expressed that they wanted me. Nobody wants to be somewhere where they are not wanted. Coach said he was going to push me and get me better in all aspects on the court and off it. We talked, I talked with my circle, and ultimately decided to stay. I thought that was the best decision for me at the moment. And now that we’ve finished summer workouts, I definitely don’t regret it. I made the right decision for sure. Constant growth is super important in basketball and over the summer I can honestly say I got better.
CDD: You had built relationships with other guys like Malik (Martin), Jalen (Carey), Sebastian (Thomas) and Abdou (Samb). What discussions were you having with them during the transition period and how did that influence, or at least inform you, in your process?
IL: I mean, me and those guys… we had a lot of conversations. Endless to be honest. That definitely played a part in my decision. I feel like having a familiar face around plays a part in you being comfortable in an environment. Seeing those guys – some entered their names into the portal and some who didn’t – they were a part of my circle. We had countless conversations and ultimately, with that group you mention, all our plans were to stay at Rhode Island.
CDD: As you got into summer workouts, what’s an aspect of Coach Miller you learned about that surprised you a bit… maybe outpaced an expectation you had of him?
IL: I knew this coming in… but not to this extent. He’s all about basketball. To him, it’s like breathing. He has to do it. He loves to do it. Everything included: conditioning, he works out a ton. I’ll be in the weight room and I’ll see him sweating coming from the other gym. He loves being around us and he’s a basketball guy.
CDD: How have practices been under Coach Miller and how would you characterize his approach?
IL: Practices have been extremely fast paced. Whether it be shooting, cone work, finishes… it’s rare that we are not moving. The theme of practice is that we’re going to be a fast-paced team. Up and down the floor we’ve got to be conditioned. Our first workout, all we did was shoot. But after it, I felt like I’d run miles and miles. Shooting is shooting, but when you add shooting over a long period of time at a fast pace… that’s when you really start seeing improvement. If you’re comfortable shooting, you’re not going to see anything but slow progress at best. I was uncomfortable shooting the ball for an hour that day. And that was maybe the first time I felt that way after a shooting practice. Anybody can get on the gun and shoot 500 shots and be okay. But this… our team was shooting for 45 minutes, and it felt like a I had played a whole 40-minute game with no timeouts.
CDD: Let’s get specific to you. As you look back, assess your redshirt freshman year in 2021-22. More than stats… let’s examine it in context. What did you think about it, what did you learn from it?
IL: I’d say as I look back on it, I could’ve done better. I could’ve been more of a leader when times got tough on the court. I did it sometimes, but it wasn’t consistent enough for us to get over the hump. If I feel as if you’re slacking a little bit, I need to be comfortable enough to tell you… whether we’re the closest of friends or we aren’t. A basketball team, anybody needs to be comfortable telling someone their wrongdoings or applauding them when they’re right, it goes both ways. I feel like I could’ve stepped up.
On the positive side, I do think there were improvements. Being more comfortable in ball screen situations is an area where I grew. I was able to make reads last year that I couldn’t have made in previous years. Being more poised and not being able to be sped up is something I continue to work on. Say our point guards are out of the game… I want to be able to control the game like they do, so it’s not a drop-off is something I’m really working on. Being under and in control. Simulating uncomfortable situations in live, game speed action… along with watching film is big for me, so I can see where I’m making mistakes, learn, and have the action or decision become more second nature to me.
CDD: You talked about leadership and the concerted effort you’re making. How’s it going?
IL: I feel like it’s going well. We all respect each other. We all need to be able to accept criticism in a way that is good for our team. I’ve been trying to not only lead by example but be more of a voice; sharing my input when something I see is on my brain. Being more consistent with everything.
CDD: Lots of new faces. What are your thoughts on the group collectively?
IL: I think we have a great group of guys coming in. I’m super excited to be on the court. The coaching staff right to the managers… and the players. It’s a special group, a versatile group. We have defensive threats, offensive threats – there are a lot of things we can do. I feel like our journey is going to be different. That’s one thing I can say about our group as a whole; it’s a different vibe. It’s a lot of good –and I’m excited to play with these guys.
CDD: Of the newcomers you participated in summer sessions with, can you share one word or phrase to describe each… whether on or off the court related?
Brayon Freeman: Naturally gifted
Jeremy Foumena: He’s a dog.
Rory Stewart: Sniper
Brandon Weston: Strong-bodied
Josaphat Bilau: Mentally tough. Invested. (Note: Bilau is currently injured.)
Alex Tchikou: Jokester
Louis Hutchinson: Bounce-man
CDD: We both know the journey is just beginning… It’s still a couple months before opening night. But what do you anticipate this team will do well by the time we get into December?
IL: By the time we’ll get into late November/December, we’ll be a very fast, but under control team.
CDD: You’re home with family right now and returning to campus September 4th. Can you walk fans through the next two or three weeks for you, your day-to-day, getting some rest and enjoying yourself, etc.?
IL: Right now, I’m working out twice a day. Mobility and strength – and before that I get a basketball workout in. I’m working St. John’s College High School camp and local rec center St. James camp so I’m staying around basketball. Even when I’m home I gotta be around it. Staying home with family, but always in the gym.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow on Twitter for five straight years, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44