CLOVERDALE – They are separated by two centuries. But dadgum it, there is a bit of Davy Crockett to Cooper Neese.
Crockett was a Tennessee folk hero and frontiersman who became legend. He ran away from home and, upon returning, had grown so tall his family did not recognize him. Neese had a growth spurt, too — a benefit in basketball.
A song lyric asserts Crockett killed a bear at age 3. OK, that did not happen, but he learned to shoot a rifle when he was 8. Neese, also an outdoorsman, shot a deer with a muzzleloader at age 9. He shot a coyote with a bow and arrow a year ago. He has a collection of 10 squirrel tails.
“He’s always shooting something,” said his mother Lisa Roeder.
Shooting a basketball is what has the 6-4, 18-year-old Neese approaching legendary status in these parts.
He was seemingly destined to become a Butler signee.
He is from Cloverdale High School, alma mater of Chad Tucker, the Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer and teammate of Neese’s father, Jerry. He broke the Putnam County record held by Bainbridge’s Jeff Blue, who played for the Bulldogs’ 1962 Sweet 16 team. Neese’s family was close to the late Butler center Andrew Smith, whose wedding reception was held in a barn big enough to hold two basketball courts on the 26-acre estate owned by Neese’s stepfather.
Neese has become the 10th-highest scoring high school player ever in Indiana. He faces the same kind of skepticism that accompanied Crockett’s feats.
How good could the kid really be?
That’s what Mike Peterson wanted to know. Peterson is coach of Indy Hoosiers, a summer travel team featuring touted teenagers Kris Wilkes (committed to UCLA) and Paul Scruggs (Xavier). The coach saw undiscovered talent in Neese.
The coach needed a shooter, and the player needed an audience. The coach pushed the player. The player responded. Not sometimes. Every time.
“I’ll be damned. It all came true,” Peterson said. “We showed that it was not just Cloverdale, that he could run, jump and play with the best in the country.”
Neese has been timed at 4.5 seconds for 40 yards and bench presses 225 pounds (or 15 reps of 185). Dunks come easily. His wrists are double-jointed, allowing him to touch the inside of his arms with his fingertips.
Did we mention he averages 28 points a game, once scored 53 and has Stephen Curry range on 3-pointers?
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Neese wonders what would have happened if he had stuck with baseball. As an 11-year-old, his fastball approached 60 mph. Before that, he was banned from T-ball because he was hitting the ball so hard.
“They were afraid he was going to hit one of the other kids,” his mother said.
But basketball was in his blood. It was Neese’s sport “as soon as I came out of the womb,” he said.
It is the sport, too, of Cloverdale (population 2,172) and the high school there (enrollment 420).
The Clovers were the Milan of 1966, reaching the single-class final four at Hinkle Fieldhouse. They lost a semifinal to Tech 58-51 and finished 27-2.
Another Clovers team, featuring Tucker and Jerry Neese, was 24-0 before losing in the 1982 regional to a Terre Haute South team coached by Pat Rady — who is the father of current Cloverdale coach Patrick Rady.
It has come full circle. If the Clovers win a third successive sectional, it would be the first time they have done so since the teams of Tucker and Jerry Neese in 1981-’82-’83.
Neese is the youngest of his parents’ four children. They divorced in 2005. Shared custody meant splitting time at the Cloverdale residence of his father and Avon residence of his mother.
He had his choice of attending Cloverdale, Avon or Covenant Christian high schools. It “wasn’t even a choice,” he said. He belonged to Cloverdale.
He might belong to the highest-scoring household in Indiana. Also living with his mother and her husband, Craig Roeder, CEO and owner of logistics management company ProTrans, is Craig’s grandson, Jordan Webb, a 17-point scorer for Covenant Christian.
Neese stood 5-9 or 5-10 in eighth grade, then added an inch or two over the next year. As a sophomore, he sprouted three inches in a few months, causing his knees to ache and prompting his mother to buy new jeans for him.
He had a breakout summer before his junior season, and caught the attention of Butler coach Chris Holtmann and then-assistant Michael Lewis. When Neese played for Indy Hoosiers, players on opposing teams shouted, “Shooter!” as soon as he crossed half-court.
Uncharacteristically, Butler made an offer to Neese early in his junior season (December 2015). By then, Neese had pestered Andrew Smith so often with questions that he knew everything there was to know about the program. He had played in open gyms with Butler players, proving himself to them — he once made eight successive 3s — and building rapport.
He committed on the phone, on the spot.
“He came back and said, ‘It’s different playing with these guys,’” his father said.
Neese had played in open gyms at Indiana University, too. Would Indiana have recruited Neese?
His father said coach Tom Crean once told him the Hoosiers were too late to get into the mix. Not that Neese wavered. After Neese committed to Butler and had a big 2016 summer, Peterson suggested that Neese was going to make his recruitment interesting. Neese’s reply:
“No, I’m not.”
The Butler connection was too tight.
Neese already has befriended Bulldog players, including senior Avery Woodson, who has gone fishing on Neese’s stepfather’s property. Samantha Smith, widow of Andrew, accompanied the Roeders to Neese’s summer tournaments. Samantha considers Neese a little brother, irrespective of how tall he is.
He seemingly fits two components of the Butler Way, humility and servanthood. His family regularly volunteers at two Downtown Indianapolis homeless shelters. When a couple of club teammates needed transport to practice, it was Neese who drove the 40-plus miles to pick them up in Indy.
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Holtmann has acknowledged the obvious adjustments needed to move from Indiana’s Class 2A to the Big East. Neese’s defense and ball-handling require improvement, and sometimes he is not assertive in high school games, even though he is always the most talented player.
That can be attributed to the unconventional makeup of the 18-6 Clovers, who have won 11-of-12 after beating Shakamak 84-45 in Saturday’s regular-season finale. Neese (27.9) and Jalen Moore (26.5) combine for 54.4 of Cloverdale’s 71.7 points per game, making them the Nos. 2 and 6 scorers in Indiana. Neese does not dominate because Moore, the point guard, has the ball in his hands so much.
Neese scored 53 points Dec. 3 at Southmont, and Moore scored 48 against Danville on Feb. 4. Cloverdale lost both games.
Also, Neese has endured every junk defense imaginable: double-teams, box-and-one, triangle-and-two. His arms are scraped so often that they bleed after games.
Neese knows there are skeptics who don’t expect him to succeed at college basketball. .
“Really, it’s kind of a chip-on-my-shoulder type thing,” he said. “Winning games proves a lot more than anything else to me.”
That applies to everything from bass fishing to video games. He can go into “Neese mode” when playing NBA2K17, which is how he acquired his Twitter handle: @Neesemode11.
Rady said Neese has been diligent about improving weaknesses. It is possible the future Bulldog will thrive on a college team, playing alongside those of comparable ability. We know this much: He can shoot.
Call IndyStar reporter David Woods at (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
All-time Indiana top 10 scorers
1. 3,134, Damon Bailey, Bedford North Lawrence, 1990.
2. 3,019, Marion Pierce, Lewisville, 1961.
3. 3,018, Deshaun Thomas, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, 2010.
4. 2,632, Brody Boyd, Union (Dugger), 2000.
5. 2,595, Rick Mount, Lebanon, 1966.
6. 2,568, Trevon Bluiett, Park Tudor, 2014.
7. 2,465, Billy Shepherd, Carmel, 1968.
8. 2,419, Alan Henderson, Brebeuf Jesuit, 1991.
9. 2,387, James Blackmon Jr., Marion, 2014.
10. 2,376, Cooper Neese, Cloverdale, 2017.