University of Dayton basketball player Steve McElvene died Thursday at 20, the school announced.
A spokesperson for the Allen County (Ind.) Coroners Office said McElvene died at 11:19 a.m. An investigation is ongoing, and an autopsy was expected to be conducted Thursday. McElvene was a 6-foot-11 center from New Haven High School, just east of Fort Wayne.
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“We are devastated at this news,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “Any death is a tragedy, but for someone so young who worked so hard to have his dreams within reach, it’s hard to put into words how painful this is. Our hearts and prayers go out to Steve’s family. My family, our team and our staff will have to pull together, not only in support of Steve’s family, but in support of each other at this terrible time.”
Gloria Starks, McElvene’s aunt and sister of his mom, Janelle Shoals, said McElvene collapsed at home and it would take several days for the coroner to release the results of the autopsy. She said the family didn’t know yet when the funeral would be.
According to a report from Glenn Marini, the sports director at WANE-TV in Fort Wayne, “Enlarged heart is believed to be the cause.”
Dr. Dan Curran, the UD president who is stepping down in June, said McElvene had his heart tested during the season. McElvene did not play in a game at George Mason on Feb. 6 because he was sick with a virus.
“We went through all the tests we could with him, and we weren’t going to clear him to play unless he had all the heart tests and so on,” Curran said. “So again these things are very tricky and you know — he goes back home and a week home he’s no longer with us. So sad.”
Dayton senior point guard Scoochie Smith reacted to his teammate’s death on Instagram. He posted a photo of him and McElvene slapping hands and said, “Don’t worry Big Fella we still gunna high five next season … #RIP Lil Big Bro.”
Senior guard Charles Cooke also posted a photo of himself and McElvene to Instagram and wrote, “You were a great player with a great heart! You could put a smile on anybody’s face!”
McElvene had been at UD for two seasons. He sat out the 2014-15 season as a NCAA partial qualifier but practiced with the team all season and transformed his body. He weighed close to 315 pounds when he arrived at UD in 2014 and played at 268 pounds last season.
In his first season on the court, McElvene set a UD record for blocked shots (55). He averaged 6.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
WHIO’s Bucky Bockhorn, who attends many UD practices and gets to know the players well, said McElvene was well liked by his teammates, made practice fun and played hard.
“He was just going to get better,” Bockhorn said. “Give that kid three years, he would have been a pro player, no doubt. He had that left- and right-hand hook. What people didn’t realize is this kid could step out to 18 feet and drill shots.”
For Bockhorn and many in the UD community, the news of McElvene’s death brought back memories of the death of Chris Daniels, a 6-10 center for the Flyers who passed away at 22 in his sleep in February 1996. The most improved player award UD hands out every season is named after Daniels.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Bockhorn said. “Archie got (McElvene) going big time. He worked hard. He was going to be next year a helluva player. I’m crushed. An old man like me dying is no big deal, but a kid who’s (20) years old, it’s just not right.”
Larry Hansgen, the longtime voice of the Flyers on WHIO, said Daniels and McElvene had a lot in common in the way they carried themselves.
“We use terms like gentle giant, maybe too often, but these guys had a lot in common that way,” Hansgen said. “They were such big physical forces.”
Hansgen said McElvene may have been the most popular player among his teammates. It wasn’t uncommon to see the players dancing around McElvene in the pregame huddle, even when he was a true freshman.
“He was like the pied piper,” Hansgen said. “People flocked around him. He was the guy. He was literally the big man on campus. He just had a magnetism about him. He was always the most upbeat and vocal guy in practice.”