By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published November 13, 2014
ATLANTA—I saw Tim Cleary for the first time at center court, going up for the opening tip of a Nov. 20, 2004 home game between his Blessed Trinity Titans and the Alpharetta Raiders. It was my inaugural coverage of basketball and that image has always stayed with me. Cleary is soaring high to out jump his opponent against the backdrop of the Titan mascot and the school colors of Vegas gold and hunter green. Cleary played all four quarters that night, finishing with eight points and three personal fouls, and BT won 57-36.
After high school Cleary attended Shorter University in Rome on a basketball scholarship. He played four years of basketball and graduated in 2010 with a degree in business administration. For two years after graduation he remained at Shorter as a graduate assistant to the sports information director. He earned his master’s in business administration in 2012.
That July Cleary moved back to metro Atlanta and accepted a position with Fresenius Medical Care in their financial department as a patient account representative. Fresenius is the world’s leading provider of dialysis products and services. His current role is supervisor of collections.
In 2009, Cleary’s junior year of college, he met Linette Urbina. They dated for four years and they were married on June 1, 2013 at St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell, where they are parishioners. Tim and Linette reside in Acworth with their black lab “Maddux.”
Tim Cleary talks to The Georgia Bulletin:
Q: I don’t expect you to remember much about that 2004 game against Alpharetta High School, but what do you remember most about your playing days at Blessed Trinity?
A: I don’t remember a whole lot about that game versus Alpharetta, but I recall looking up at the score and seeing that we won by 21 points, which was nice to see. What I remember most about playing at Blessed Trinity is my teammates. I had the opportunity to play with some great guys. We had great chemistry every year and that made coming to the gym every day a lot of fun. The one game that still sticks out in my mind today is our region tournament game against Alonzo Crim High School in 2004. We were beyond underdogs, but we were able to beat them and give BT its first state playoffs’ berth. It was such a thrill to do what everyone else said we couldn’t and continue our season when our backs were against the wall.
Q: Is there any particular team or player that stands out during your high school playing days? Did you ever face a high school opponent who became a college standout or a college opponent who went on to play in the NBA?
A: Two teammates that stand out in my mind are Scott Fleming and Kyle Bender. Both were older than I was and they did a great job of taking me under their wing and encouraging me. Their leadership helped me in my career beyond BT and is something I tried to replicate.
Two opponents I had an opportunity to face in high school that stand out are Westlake High School’s Cam Newton and Charlotte Christian High School’s Stephen Curry. Cam was a phenomenal athlete and he probably could have played basketball at the D1 level, as well as football. He had a few dunks against us that were unbelievable. That year his team went on to finish runner-up for the state championship.
We played against Stephen Curry in a Christmas tournament in Charlotte and we had no idea what we were in for. He actually scored his 2,000th career point in the second half against us as they went on to win big. I felt a little better about it when I saw him dropping 30 (points) against schools like Duke a year later. He is probably the best basketball player I have ever had the chance to face. (Today Cam Newton is quarterback of the Carolina Panthers in the NFL and Stephen Curry is a guard for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA.)
Q: As a center what was your strategy for winning the opening tip?
A: My strategy for the tip would change depending on who the opponent was. I always got amped up for the challenge when I faced someone who was my height or bigger as in the photograph (against Alpharetta). I would talk to the coaches and be realistic if I thought I could win the tip or not. If I thought I could win it, I would be very aggressive and try to tip the ball to a teammate in the front court so we could try to score quickly. If I had doubts, I would try to tip the ball to a teammate behind me and we would walk the ball up and get into the offense.
I am glad you captured that moment from 2004 because that is probably the highest I ever jumped. It was the first game of the season and I was feeding off of the energy of the crowd. I was pumped.
Q: Former Blessed Trinity head basketball coach Brian Marks said, “(Cleary) was a quiet leader who led by example. We had a young team that year, and the players really looked up to him. He worked hard every day and always had a positive attitude. He was easily one of the most polite and respectful young men I have ever coached.” What do you remember most about your former coach and what life lessons did he impart to you?
A: Coach Marks was a big influence on me throughout my high school career. He helped me develop from a tall, scrawny freshman who could hardly hold his own in the paint, into a senior who was a captain and could go toe to toe with anyone in our league. He really helped get my name out to the college scouts. He allowed scouts into our practices and he told me about different showcases that were taking place. This includes the showcase where I met the Shorter University coaching staff, where I eventually ended up committing. As far as life lessons, Coach Marks taught me that if you bring your best every day, you will be successful. That applies to not only basketball, but life, too.
Q: Do you still play basketball or coach youth at some level?
A: I try to play basketball as often as I can. I play in a Roswell men’s league during the spring and summer. I also help coach BT’s eighth-grade feeder team with my former teammates, Brandon Braner and Matt Cunningham. It is a great opportunity that we have to give back to the school we love and prepare the kids for the high school level.
Q: How have you done in recent years when it comes to basketball’s March Madness? Have you picked the Final Four teams, the two teams in the championship or the ultimate champion?
A: The best luck I had was in 2012 when I picked Kentucky to beat Kansas in the championship. I won my bracket pool for the first time that year and I haven’t won since.
Q: Who is your favorite contemporary professional basketball player and who is your favorite throwback (former/retired) player and why?
A: My favorite contemporary basketball player is Kevin Love. His inside-out style of play is fun to watch and is something I tried to do throughout my career. I think he is a great example of how the power forward position has changed over the years.
Not to be boring, but my favorite retired player is Michael Jordan. His competitive greatness is incomparable in any sport in my opinion. Being able to three-peat as an NBA champion twice (1991-93, 1996-98) in his career is something I don’t think we will ever see again.
Then & Now is an occasional series appearing in The Georgia Bulletin. The series features people who were captured in a newspaper photograph published 10 or more years ago, along with current news about them.