GREENFIELD – One after another the little boys exited the Cloverdale locker room, kids in the fifth or sixth grade, all of them bawling. The Clovers’ season had just ended Saturday in a 67-59 Class 2A regional loss to Northeastern. Some day these kids hope to play for the Clovers. On Saturday, they cried for them.
Before he became the greatest player in school history and the No. 7 all-time scorer in Indiana, Cooper Neese was one of those little boys. In 2007, the Clovers’ big star was Michael Neese, and his kid brother Cooper was this tiny little thing the town had come to know and love, dribbling that basketball all over the place, right into their hearts.
“Everyone in Cloverdale has a Cooper story,” Clovers coach Patrick Rady is saying after the game.
In 2007, when Cloverdale lost to Providence in the Southridge regional, Cooper cried his eyes out.
Cooper didn’t cry on Saturday. Almost everyone else did, from those little kids to his teammates to his coach and even his coach’s father, Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Rady, whose last two seasons at Cloverdale were the first two for Cooper Neese. Patrick replaced his dad two years ago.
Patrick Rady cried Saturday. At one point he cried so hard, alone with me in the locker room, it sounded almost like laughter. It was not. What triggered his emotional outpouring was something I’d seen moments earlier outside the locker room.
What was out there? Cloverdale was out there. Fans crammed into the hallway at Greenfield-Central, waiting more than a half hour for the players to come out so they could give the team one more ovation, one emerging player at a time.
The last player out was Cooper Neese, a Butler signee who scored 20 points, giving him a final career tally of 2,496. The two names directly in front of him on the all-time Indiana high school scoring list: Lebanon’s Rick Mount (fifth with 2,595 points) and Park Tudor’s Trevon Bluiett (sixth with 2,568). Just behind Neese are No. 8 Billy Shepherd of Carmel, No. 9 Alan Henderson of Brebeuf Jesuit, and No. 10 James Blackmon Jr. of Marion.
This is the company Cooper Neese now keeps. And this town of Cloverdale, this blue-collar town that knows all too well what some in the more affluent parts of Putnam County call it — Clover-tucky, townsfolk were telling me Saturday — this town loves Cooper Neese.
Come with me to the hallway.
Cooper Neese walks out of the locker room and into the arms of his mom, Lisa Roeder, who whispers into his ear: “There’s a little girl here who wants your picture so bad.”
She points Cooper to a young woman, Tiana Rempe, a 2000 Cloverdale graduate. Tiana is holding Sadie, a cutie of about 6 months wearing a black onesie with these words sewn in green:
Cooper’s No. 1 fan.
Cooper takes Sadie into his arms, smiles for one camera, then several more. Everyone wants a picture of this, Cooper with his No. 1 fan. Tiana tells me she doesn’t know Cooper but played volleyball for his mom — and more than that, appreciates what Cooper has meant to the town.
Back inside the locker room, I’m telling Patrick Rady what I’ve just seen. About Cooper. About Sadie. About the pictures. Maybe it’s my fault, because I’m choking up as I describe the onesie, but now Patrick Rady is crying so hard he’s bellowing. Nearly a minute later we start talking.
“That’s what Cooper means to this town,” Rady says. “That’s it, right there.”
Patrick Rady drives an Uber.
Seriously: The Cloverdale boys basketball coach, who has one of the most esteemed jobs in a town of 2,100, drives an Uber in the evenings. Not because he needs the money, he says. He craves the camaraderie.
“I just love Cloverdale,” he says. “I love getting out and talking with people.”
Cloverdale, its median household income ($38,000) well below the state average ($50,000), is a small town like so many others in Indiana, one that loves its high school basketball team. Over the past three decades, when the team has been good, a Neese has been the star. And a Rady has usually been the coach.
Jerry Neese, playing alongside future Butler legend Chad Tucker, scored 1,259 career points on the Clovers’ sectional champions of 1981, ’82 and ’83. His son Michael averaged 18.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.9 steals on the 2007 sectional champ for Pat Rady, who spent the last 12 years of his 51-year career here and ranks second in state history with 761 victories. Cooper Neese has been the leading scorer on four straight Cloverdale teams, three winning sectionals, the past two coached by Patrick.
The last seven Cloverdale teams to win sectional, dating to 1981, had a Rady, a Neese or both. After this one is over, the elder Rady walks into the locker room. Pat Rady grabs Cooper, hugs him, tumbles several words into his ear. I can make out just two: Proud is one. Love is the other.
Pat isn’t from Cloverdale, but he married into it. His wife, Margaret Huber Rady, graduated from Cloverdale in 1960. They married in the old Methodist church in 1966, and when Indiana celebrated its 150th birthday that summer, Margaret Rady was the Putnam County Sesquicentennial Queen.
Last year, at the Radys’ 50th anniversary party, Cooper showed up.
“That’s the kind of kid he is,” Patrick Rady says.
Cooper has always been fiercely loyal to Cloverdale. After eighth grade, knowing a Division I basketball career was in Cooper’s future, his mom said he had a choice of high schools. Cloverdale was an option, but so was Avon, Covenant Christian or one of the IPS schools — it was more than one — trying to recruit him.
“Had a conversation with my mom,” Cooper was telling me Saturday, going back to eighth grade. “I bet she was planning on it being about a half-hour conversation — and it was about 30 seconds. I wanted to be like my brother. I wanted to wear those (green) candy stripes.”
Cooper’s voice catches. He trails off with a sad smile.
“Yeah,” he says.
Now Cooper is steering the conversation away from himself, toward his town and his school and his teammates. He didn’t win that sectional alone, he’s saying. The idea offends him. So does the notion that Cloverdale will fall off a cliff next season. Neese points out that forward Seth Pfaff, whose back-to-back steals on Saturday sparked the Clovers’ final rally, is the only other senior. Everyone else is back, led by junior Jalen Moore, a 5-9 force of nature who averaged 27.4 ppg, with 31 Saturday.
“They’ll be fine. They’ll be completely fine,” Cooper Neese says, and now he’s showing irritation that people might assume anything else. “Everybody says, ‘As soon as Cooper leaves, they’re not going to win.’ That’s a bunch of B.S. Jalen’s gonna lead ‘em, and Coach is gonna do what he does every single day.”
Asked if he has anything else to add, Cooper Neese nods.
“I just want to thank everybody,” he says. “I’ve been extremely blessed to get to play for Cloverdale, to get to put the uniform on, to get to play for the coaching staff. I couldn’t ask for anything more. This was more than any kid could have dreamed of.”