Steve McElvene and Kendall Pollard at first practice Friday. David Jablonski/Staff
The 2015-16 college basketball season is just around the corner. In honor of the Flyers winning 53 games the last two seasons (and because I couldn’t come up with 2,015 reasons), I’m counting down 53 reasons (in no particular order) to look forward to the season.
Follow the blog between now and the season opener against Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 13. I will have four to five updates per week.
I’ll post links on Twitter (@DavidPJablonski) and on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/DavidPatrickJablonski.
NOTE TO READERS: I want to salute the fans at some point in this series. Here’s my idea: Email me a photo of your favorite piece of UD memorabilia (firstname.lastname@example.org). It could be a ticket stub, a T-shirt, a poster, a newspaper page, a photo of you at a game, etc. And write a paragraph or two or more about the story behind it: where you got it, what it means to you, why it’s special, etc. Also tell me how long you’ve been a fan, how and why you started rooting for the Flyers. I will include the story and the text in a blog entry. Anyone who submits a story gets four 4×6 prints of UD buzzer-beaters in the last two years.
No. 26: Steve McElvene
There’s one big reason to look forward the new Dayton men’s basketball season. His name is Steve McElvene, and he is big. Fans want to see Charles Cooke in action. They want to see how the four freshman fit into Archie Miller’s plans. But I don’t think there’s any doubt everyone is most fascinated with the 6-11 redshirt freshman from New Haven, Ind., who spent his first two years of high school in Alabama.
As a senior, ESPN ranked him the 40th best center in the country. He was ranked the ninth best player in his class in Indiana. He averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game.
Still, McElvene was a mystery a year ago. He didn’t arrive on campus in the summer like the other freshman in the class of 2014, Darrell Davis. A couple weeks after he did arrive, UD announced he would sit out the season as a NCAA partial qualifier. In other words, he had the grades to go to school at UD but not to play.
At the time, Miller said, “”We are disappointed for Steve, and of course Steve is very disappointed. But as a member of our team he will be involved in everything we do. This is a great opportunity for him to spend the next year to develop on and off the court to be the best player he can be at the start of next season, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”
On the bright side, the Flyers won 27 games without McElvene on the court, and he got a year to practice with the team and mature as a basketball player and student. I talked to him before the First Four, and he said he had a tough time first semester in class but did much better the second semester.
Meanwhile, McElvene transformed his body. He told me he was 305 when he arrived on campus. The current roster lists him as 268. He’s still listed as 6-11, though Miller has called him a “true 7-footer” once or twice. So round up if you like. With the right pair of shoes, he’s 7 feet tall.
“I’ve grown a lot since senior year,” McElvene said in March. “I wasn’t here for the summer, so they just threw me into the weight room so I could catch up to everyone else. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
From what I’ve seen, McElvene fit right in with the True Team right away. He was a strong cheerleader on the bench last season, as was Cooke. The Flyers often dance around one player in their pregame huddle. McElvene was often the guy in the middle. At the first practice last Friday, where the media was allowed to watch the first 20 minutes, McElvene picked up Kendall Pollard, who was wearing a cape for some reason, as the two joked around in a shoot-around.
Of course, the questions are: Can he play? And how will he impact this team?
As Miller said, McElvene’s still really a freshman. He has four years of eligibility remaining.
“He’s making progress,” Miller said Friday. “The thing I’ll tell you about Steve is a lot of young big guys need to play. As much as you practice with them, as much as you drill them, until they get out there with the speed of the game and with people, they’re going to have some growing pains. We’ve got to focus Steve on some simple things. The one thing I do know after being around him for a year and change is he’s just so different around the basket on defense. He can block shots. He can alter shots. His offense and defensive rebounding and his size is big. But Steve’s going to take time. I don’t think anyone’s going to look at Steve and say he’s Kareem. He’s got to grow up.”