INDIANAPOLIS — The journey of Courvoisier McCauley begins here, about 100 yards north of his home on N. Kitley Avenue. Windsor Village Family Center is literally the end of the road. On top of the hill behind the building, you can see and hear 18-wheelers rattling eastbound down I-70.
Inside, Mary McBeath greets a visitor with a smile. She hears the name Courvoisier McCauley and her smile widens. She loves him like a son. McCauley has been coming to the Family Center since his family moved to this east-side neighborhood near 21st Street and Arlington Avenue eight years ago.
“This is his home,” said McBeath, an assistant manager at Windsor Village. “This is definitely his home. But I want him to get out. I want him to be one of the ones who comes back here and says, ‘Hey Miss Mary, I’m home from college to visit.’ That’s my goal.”
McCauley, 18, is something of a sudden star on the high school basketball scene, a rarity anymore when top prospects are known by middle school. McCauley, averaging exactly 30 points per game as a senior for 13-3 Manual, didn’t even play basketball as a freshman. Now he’s in the discussion for an Indiana All-Star roster spot with a prep school and a Division I future on the horizon.
It’s something of a miracle that he’s made it this far.
“Through all the stereotypes and statistics, thinking it’s not possible to do this and that, he’s beat the odds,” said his mother, April McCauley. “He’s our little gift from God.”
But, as McBeath reminds him every day at the Windsor Village Family Center, he hasn’t made it yet.
“I’m his biggest skeptic,” McBeath said with a laugh. “I tell him I don’t care about those points. ‘How’s your defense?’ ‘How’s your grades?’ Anybody can be an offensive player.”
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About that name. Courvoisier. It’s a brand of cognac, named after Frenchman Emmanuel Courvoisier, who founded a wine and spirit company on the outskirts of Paris in the early 1800s.
April McCauley said she liked the name, not the drink.
“It’s a French name,” she said. “I always wanted to visit Europe and I thought it sounded like a really cool name. He’s made it a well-known name.”
Manual coach Donnie Bowling still can’t spell it right, at least not every time. But he calls him “Voss” anyway. That’s how most of his friends and teammates address him. While his first name earns him some razzing at times from opposing fans, the 6-5 McCauley has come to appreciate the originality.
“I just try to tune them out,” he said. “But I love it. That’s who I am.”
His game stands out as much as his name. McCauley attended School 99 in the Indianapolis Public Schools district and Pleasant Run Elementary in Warren Township after moving to his current house on Kitley Avenue. He played in his first organized game as a seventh-grader at Stonybrook Middle School.
He wanted No. 25 for his jersey after former Chicago prep star Benji Wilson, who was tragically shot and killed in 1984. McCauley’s coach instead tossed him No. 34 and told him to play like Paul Pierce.
“I just went with it,” he said.
It was between his seventh- and eighth-grade year that Bowling, who was starting as the new coach at Shortridge, ran into McCauley while conducting a basketball camp at the Windsor Village Family Center.
“There was him and another kid named Mack (Smith, now a senior standout at Warren Central),” Bowling said. “We were like, ‘Wow, these guys are good.’”
By the eighth grade, McCauley was attending Shortridge. His talent on the basketball court was evident, though McCauley was only about 5-8 at the time.
“He was going against Paul Scruggs (who attended Crispus Attucks through eighth grade) and other good players and getting 20 points,” Bowling said. “He had these long arms and big hands and feet. It was like, ‘Man, if he’d ever grow, he could be really tough.’”
McCauley attended Warren Central as a freshman and didn’t play basketball, but returned to Shortridge and Bowling as a sophomore. By then he’d grown to 6-1. But there was another problem.
“I couldn’t remember the plays to save my life,” McCauley said. “I always felt like I was better than the guys playing over me, but I had to figure out the plays. Once I did that, it came natural.”
Bowling put McCauley back on the junior varsity team. McCauley promptly scored 28 points against Zionsville in the first quarter. Bowling moved him back up. But it was an up-and-down season. McCauley flashed his potential at times, but nothing to suggest what was to come.
“Kids on our team would say he’s the best practice player in the city,” Bowling said. “His confidence just wasn’t there. He always questioned himself. I think that was his biggest issue.”
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McBeath, a former standout basketball player herself at Fort Wayne Northrop in the mid-1980s, lives in the neighborhood near the Windsor Village Family Center. There were three shootings near here just last week. Drugs are a constant problem.
“It’s not a great neighborhood for young black males,” McBeath said. “It’s pretty much what you make of it. His best bet is to go to school and get out of here. If he stays here, there’s no telling what could happen. I don’t want to see him get caught up in anything.”
McCauley has stayed clean, his eyes pointed toward a bigger future. But he knows trouble is never too far away. He also has a 17-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother living at home.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids go left and sometimes you want to follow them because you don’t want to feel left out,” he said. “But as you see people fail and fall victim to drugs and crime and things like that, it has made me want to go a different way. Basketball is that way out for me.”
McCauley never knew his father. Donny Hendren died on Dec. 27, 1998, in a car accident at 38th Street and Drexel Avenue. Hendren and Lionel Christin were both killed as they were chased and shot at by individuals in another vehicle.
McCauley was three months old at the time.
“I try to keep my brother and sister on the straight and narrow,” he said. “I try to teach them things I wasn’t taught.”
Angelo Reed, a personal trainer at Windsor Village Family Center, has been a positive role model in McCauley’s life. Often, they will just talk about life over a postgame dinner.
“For him to come up and not have a record, he’s doing great,” Reed said. “His brain is like a sponge. He wants to learn. My biggest advice to him is that one mistake can change your life forever.”
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It might have looked like luck. Of course it looked like luck. When McCauley’s guarded 30-foot heave gave Manual an 80-78 win over Crispus Attucks in the City tournament semifinals Jan. 21, he was mobbed on the Tech court by his teammates and coaches.
The story there, too, begins at Windsor Village Family Center. McCauley practiced those long-range bombs all the time. He still does.
McBeath shakes her head at this. Then smiles.
“All the time working on halfcourt shots,” she said. “And then he wins the game with it.”
IPS shifted programs out of Shortridge to make way for International Baccalaureate students from Gambold Prep after McCauley’s sophomore year. After considering his options, he followed Bowling to Manual.
After a summer playing with the Indy Eagles, McCauley broke out with a monster junior year at Manual as he averaged 27.2 points per game and the Redskins posted a 15-9 season, losing in double-overtime to Attucks in a Class 3A sectional.
“Coming to Manual has been great,” he said. “It’s been more than I could ask for. People here show a lot of love and care for us. They want us to be successful. A lot of the alumni come up after games and introduce themselves.”
The future looks bright. McCauley plans to attend Commonwealth Academy (Mass.) next year and be recruited in the 2018 class. Buffalo and Iona have already offered scholarships. Others, including Georgia Tech and St. Bonaventure, are interested.
“I’m a little nervous (about going away), but I’m excited,” he said. “I think it will be a good experience for me. Getting out and playing basketball and meeting a lot of new and different people is exciting.”
April McCauley called her son’s last-second shot against Attucks “the best moment in my life.” Now she wants more for him.
“I’m hoping for him to be the first one from our family with a college degree,” she said. “We’ve seen so many young black males around here get involved in the street life and on the wrong side of the law. I want him to get out and see the world and find something better than what’s going in the neighborhood.”
McBeath just wants a visit back to the neighborhood every now and then. She’ll offer some advice: Play defense. And keep your grades up.
“I told him I want to see him playing on TV someday,” McBeath said. “That’s my goal.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.