TOPEKA — The man who coached Westview High School to its first two boys basketball state titles is still teaching junior high in the same building where he built those back-to-back state champions.
And in what's become a tradition, demanded each semester by the kids, he's still showing his eighth grade boys physical education class the videos from those 1999 and 2000 championship games, complemented by his been-there pep talk, telling the students that they can be the next group of Westview players to make it to Indianapolis.
Yet, what Troy Neely isn't doing much of anymore is going to Westview basketball games himself.
Even though, in this case, for example, every player on the current varsity roster except one has been one of his students, either in P.E., health class or both. And even though his ex-player and ex-assistant is now the head coach. And even though his stepson is now an assistant.
In fact, Neely will attend his first Warrior game all season when unranked Westview faces top-ranked Indianapolis Park Tudor on Saturday, March 29, in the Class 2A state championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It's Westview's first trip to the title game since Neely and the Warriors won the second of those back-to-back titles 14 years ago.
"You wouldn't believe how hard it is for me to stay away from basketball. It's an addiction, almost like an alcoholic or someone on drugs," says Neely, who speaks dead seriously and means the comparison literally more than metaphorically. "I have to fight it every day, and when I go, I start analyzing too much. I finally decided that if I can't just be a fan, I just shouldn't go. Or I should just go coach somewhere."
And Neely, 52, doesn't think he should do that, either, as much as he has entertained the idea off and on.
"I spend most of my time studying my Bible now," says Neely, the first individual in Indiana boys history to both win a state scoring title and coach a state champion. "I'm just so much more at peace. I feel like I had a long career playing-wise, which helped get me into college (at Tri-State), and then I reached some pretty good highs in coaching, but now I enjoy coming into my office and studying my Bible, and teaching Sunday school at my church. I've fallen in love with that part of my life."
Neely says he became faithful about Bible study four or five years ago. He deems himself incapable of continuing along that path while also coaching basketball.
"When I was coaching or playing, I neglected to have a relationship with Christ," Neely says. "When I was in basketball, I was fully engulfed. I got better at finding a balance (as the coaching years continued), but now I realize I wasn't doing anything to really grow my spiritual side. I enjoyed every single minute I coached and everybody I worked with, but now I enjoy personal growth. It's a battle to keep myself away from basketball — like the alcoholic, I'm not recovered and any second I could go off to the races — but I don't think it would be good for me. God's control is better for me than my own controls are."
Neely, a 1980 Jimtown graduate, was named head coach at Westview in 1987, when he was 25 years old, after steering the school's freshman team for two seasons, including a 17-0 record his second season.
He went 17-6 in his rookie varsity season and stood 6-3 in his second when he resigned suddenly, at the time citing a "continuous mode of stress, anxiety, tension and adrenalin."
Neely, who has described himself as too sensitive, would cry when he had to make roster cuts and would be unable to sleep while thinking about games.
Seven years later, though, in 1996, Westview hired him as head coach again. Upon being named the second time, Neely said basketball had gone from being his only priority to being No. 4 behind God, family and school.
Three years later in 1999, the second year of class basketball, he had 2A Westview in its first state championship game, which the Warriors won handily over Paoli, 71-52.
Then, in the last Tournament of Champions that's been staged, his team beat the 3A state champs, Plainfield, 67-54 and nearly shocked 4A champ Indianapolis North Central before falling 67-63 in the final to finish off a 24-4 season.
The next year, the Warriors repeated as 2A state champs, beating Winchester 59-53 to finish off a 25-3 season.
Neely would coach three more seasons before resigning with an overall varsity record of 135-64.
At the time, he mentioned multiple factors, but one was an anonymous death threat presumably from a disgruntled fan or parent.
Today, Neely is quickly dismissive of that particular factor, refusing to address it directly.
"I definitely got out on my own terms," Neely says. "It was my choice. It was almost like God telling me, ‘You're so engaged, you don't really have time for me and I can sit you down for any reason,' and that's what happened. I think it was Spirit-led."
Neely's trip to Indy on Saturday will coincide with the week of his and wife Sharon's 25th wedding anniversary. As it so happens, his first trip to Indy as a coach coincided with the week of their 10th anniversary.
They've made it a habit to attend the State Finals nearly every year since and were going to go this year even before Westview made it.
As a bonus for Neely, Michigan City Marquette will play in the 1A title game. Neely has attended a handful of Marquette games this season at the request of his hip specialist, who has a son on Marquette's JV.
Asked if attending those games or attending the State Finals flies in the face of him describing basketball as an addiction, Neely says going to the State Finals is a tradition, and those games involving Marquette were games he "really enjoyed" without a vested interest.
The last time he attended Westview games regularly was three years ago, when his son, Dominique, was a senior starter for a 22-3 club that lost in the regional final.
Neely says he's not especially surprised that it's taken the Warriors 14 years to get back to State.
"Things aren't exactly the same now as they were 14 years ago," Neely says. "The private schools are much more (prevalent) now and they can recruit players from all over. That's the only thing that's kept Westview out of the State Finals a couple times (recently). I believe they should have a separate private school tournament, because if we could just go get talent like they can, things would be a little different."
Current Westview head coach Rob Yoder played for Neely, then was Neely's assistant for seven years, including on the two state title teams.
"Rob always gave 100 percent to whatever style we went with," Neely says. "He basically ran our defense, even if it wasn't the philosophy he preferred. And just like when he played for me, he was one of the hardest workers I've ever had."
"Addiction" or not, Neely says he'll be rooting hard for his ex-player/ex-assistant, for all of his ex-students and for his stepson, current assistant Ryan Yoder, on Saturday.
"I've told all those eighth-grade classes that they could do it, and this is the one that has," Neely says. "And I'd love to see Rob win. Rob will usually run one basic offense and one defense, and I was a little more multiple, but you can win either way. But really, one of the biggest differences is if you dislike Rob, or if some parent is upset that he doesn't play his son, too bad.
"I would let those things bother me, and I don't think Rob lets those things bother him at all."