Exploring the often-asked question: 'Can Cooper Neese really play at Butler?'
A majority of my conversations when out in public, as my wife can reluctantly confirm, are sports-related in nature.
Since taking this job nearly two months ago, one of the most common questions that has been posed of me is "Can Cooper Neese really play at Butler?"
I have seen Neese play more than a dozen times for Cloverdale, mostly in the Wabash Valley Classic at Terre Haute, plus a few other random games I covered for the Terre Haute newspaper and two exhibition games this summer.
Early in his career, he had support from former Clover standouts such as Marquise Moore, K.J. Coleman and Brantson Scott.
Last year, Neese and Jalen Moore carried much of the load as the Clovers went 19-8 and won a sectional title.
I have seen him have good games and bad games, as all players will have.
So, can he really play at Butler?
I have no doubt that he can.
I saw recent Butler graduate Kellen Dunham play a few times in high school, including his final prep game for top-ranked Pendleton Heights against Terre Haute North in the regional -- ironically at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Dunham went on to be one of the best players in Butler history, leading the team in scoring for each of his final three seasons and winding up third all-time on the Bulldog scoring list with 1,946 points -- just 73 points behind second-place finisher Darrin Fitzgerald.
The all-time leader? Cloverdale's Chad Tucker, with 2,231 points.
Dunham is a well-built, 6-5 shooting guard who can really shoot it. He worked out for the Indiana Pacers last week, and it wouldn't be shocking if he winds up on somebody's NBA roster next winter.
My assessment of the two players is that there are many similarities between them, but Neese is a far superior athlete and a better ball handler/passer.
Neese was the state's third-leading scorer last season, and is the top returning scorer.
Yet, even though coach Patrick Rady has upgraded the team's schedule for next winter to include three high-profile "shootout" contests, there will be the usual whispers about a small-school guy going to a big-time program like Butler.
"They don't play anybody."
"He wouldn't score that many points if he played for [choose any Class 4A team]."
"He probably just shoots all the time."
Coach Rady has seen Neese play more basketball than just about anyone not related to him, and has some good examples from his own past to make comparisons.
Rady grew up around the Terre Haute South program run by his father, Hall of Famer Pat Rady, and was able to witness the development of future Division I players Maynard Lewis and Armon Bassett.
Lewis had a solid four-year career at Purdue and is still one of the school's best ever 3-point shooters, while Bassett split his college career between Indiana and Ohio -- leading the Bobcats to the NCAA Tournament in his final collegiate season.
"I saw them at the same young age as I saw Cooper," said Rady, who was an assistant under his father at Cloverdale for several years before taking over as head coach last season. "I see a lot of similarities in how competitive he is, compared to how they were.
"The athleticism and the drive to get better is definitely there for all of them, as well as shooting ability," Rady continued. "As far as a perimeter player, those are things that will play into him being successful at the next level."
Rady has also seen Neese excel for the UA Indy Hoosiers travel team against national level DI talent, and also feels Neese's defensive abilities are underrated.
"For us, a lot of times people don't realize there are stretches where he will be guarding the other team's best player," Rady said. "He has done a good job when asked to do that, and we were able to win several games last year by him shutting down the opponent's leading scorer.
"I think he will be able to defend at that level as well," Rady added. "At the college game, defense is such a premium these days."
Often, the key component for a high school player's success in college is finding the right system and being able to adapt to what the new coaching staff wants.
Rady feels like Neese is a perfect fit for the Butler system, which is one big reason why coach Chris Holtmann added him to his 2017 recruiting class.
"He is able to use ball screens well, but he can also create his own shot," Rady said. "Butler likes to set a lot of ball screens, while also running a lot of off-ball screens. He can do both, but a lot of times he gets labeled as being just a shooter. He's much more than that."
Rady has seen his team face "junk" defenses such as triangle-and-two, in which teams try to make players other than Neese and Moore beat them.
"I think he deals with it very well," Rady said. "He's an underrated passer as well. He sees the floor well and that is going to help him at the next level."
Neese knows there are doubters about his prospects at Butler, and uses their opinions as fuel.
"I just want to go out and play my game," he said after playing for the Junior All-Stars earlier this month. "If we go out and win a game, whatever team I'm playing on, and people don't like my game, that's their fault.
"If we lose and I have something to fix, I fix it," Neese added. "It definitely makes me want to work harder."
Cloverdale's school team game schedule is winding down, with a few games remaining in the Illiana league in which the team has competed.
Neese will return to action for the Indy Hoosiers next month, and will also be participating in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association/IHSAA Boys Top 100 Underclass Showcase on July 13 at Ben Davis.
If the only time someone ever saw Cooper Neese play was for the Junior All-Stars earlier this month, the skepticism would be understandable. He admittedly didn't shine in a huge spotlight.
Coach Rady and I can have our opinions, but what other people think means a lot more.
The Indy Hoosiers program can have just about any player it wants, and two of its current stars are shining at the national level. Kris Wilkes of Indianapolis North Central is currently is the final group of players being considered by USA Basketball for the 18-and-under national team, while Paul Scruggs of Southport was named to the all-star team at the National Basketball Players' Association Top 100 camp.
Butler has won more than 70 percent of its games since 2000, including back-to-back Final Four appearances.
Those people all know what they're doing. If they didn't think Cooper Neese could help out, they wouldn't invite him to their party.
If I had to bet a dollar on him making it or not I know which way I'd go.
In other news:
* Congratulations to Northview on its baseball state title.
Baseball is such a special game, and it's the unexpected heroes that give it that special quality.
The Knights got the game-winning hit in the bottom of the sixth inning from a guy hitting .198 who had been in and out of the lineup all year long. Cool stuff.
* Three Greencastle track and field standouts have been given academic all-state honors by the Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.
Whitney Weinschenk was a first-team selection while Corrie Romer and Amelia Smith were given honorable mention.
* Recent Greencastle graduate Allison White was recently introduced at halftime of the Indiana All-Star basketball series against Kentucky as an Indiana Scholastic All-Star.