He’s been following in the footsteps of Jeff Dowtin for years.
He’s now under the wing of Fatts Russell.
And he has scored more points through his first five games than any URI freshman since Jared Terrell.
If he’s URI’s next great guard, Ishmael Leggett is already keeping good company.
“He’s just a winner, in every aspect of his person,” URI head coach David Cox said. “He’s just an absolute winner.”
A solid start to his first season in Kingston has featured back-to-back games in double figures and an impression that’s been bolder than the statistics. Leggett was named the Atlantic 10’s Rookie of the Week on Monday after giving the Rams a lift in their win over Seton Hall. It was another sign that, on a team with talent, depth and experience, the freshman from Washington, D.C., belongs.
“It means a lot to me,” Leggett said of the A-10 award. “Going into the season, this was definitely one of my goals. I’m just happy to achieve it so early in the season. I hope to continue to get better as the season goes on.”
Leggett committed to the Rams last fall, an early fixture in a class of newcomers that would grow significantly in the months that followed. By the time he arrived on campus, he was joined by five transfers and two other freshmen. Even as part of that cast, Leggett was touted in the preseason. Cox has been a fan for years. With his roots and recruiting footprint in the D.C. area, Leggett was on his radar when he was a URI assistant.
“He’s an elite competitor, first and foremost,” Cox said. “It doesn’t matter what his matchup is or who we’re playing - he’s going to play at the highest level. He plays with supreme confidence. He’s got a tremendous motor. He plays to win. There’s nothing selfish about him. And he will sacrifice his body. You’ve seen him get down there and rebound with big dogs. You’ve seen him dive on the floor. You’ve seen him make selfless play after selfless play, which is why he was such a prized recruit for us.”
Leggett starred in the top-notch D.C. hoops ranks at St. John’s College High School, the alma mater of both Cox and Dowtin, the former Rams’ star. Dowtin’s success at URI - starting on two NCAA Tournament teams, earning third-team all-conference last season, departing at number 22 on the school’s all-time scoring list - naturally caught Leggett’s eye as he took the torch from Dowtin at St. John’s.
“That was a huge factor to why I committed to Rhode Island,” Leggett said. “Jeff’s success from freshman to senior year, his development coming out of high school. Each year, I just saw that he got better. I’m trying to do the same thing, each year getting better, having guys around me that push me and having coaches that push me each day.”
Cox sees similarities that go beyond the shared roots.
“I think I said this before when Ish arrived here, he’s Jeff Dowtin 2.0,” Cox said. “I meant that in regards not only to his his abilities and production on the floor, but the person he is off the floor. We’re fortunate to have him here . . . I bet if I asked that to play the four or five for me, he would run out there. He would probably throw on some extra elbow pads but he would handle that without a second thought. In this day and age, this generation of player, that’s atypical.”
Since his arrival on campus, Cox has observed common traits with another URI star. Russell is back for his senior season after earning first-team all-conference honors last year. In summer workouts, he was greeted by a youngster bent on taking Kingston by storm much as he did four years ago.
“I remember the first day that Ish was on the floor playing against Fatts,” Cox said. “I think he probably disturbed Fatts a little bit with how hard he was playing in a regular pickup game. But not very long after that they became almost inseparable because of the respect that Ish earned from Fatts. Fatts is a high level baller and a high level competitor. He likes to play around other confident, high level guys. Ish has those similar qualities. As an older player, you’ve got to respect that.”
Leggett scored two points in his collegiate debut against Arizona State before tallying seven against Boston College. He had four points against South Florida before scoring 11 in back-to-back wins over San Francisco and Seton Hall. His contributions were crucial against the Pirates, with fellow newcomer Jalen Carey sidelined. Leggett played a career-high 25 minutes and was on the court down the stretch as the Rams pulled away for the win.
With 35 points through five games, he’s totaled more than any URI freshman since 2014, when Jared Terrell delivered a spectacular debut. Leggett’s total is more than that of Russell and Dowtin, though opportunity certainly plays a part in that gap. Still, Leggett has seized his.
“My coaches trust me and I believe in myself,” Leggett said. “I think a lot of it is confidence. Once I get on the court, I feel like I’m just another college basketball player. Age is just a number to me. I just have to go out there and prove myself each and every time I’m on the court.”
The A-10 honor checks a box on Leggett’s list of goals for this season. Asked to name some other objectives, Leggett mentioned all-rookie honors.
But that wasn’t the first thing he talked about.
“As a team, definitely just keep winning,” he said.