Archie Miller: ‘Everyone was proud’ of Steve McElvene

At the end, after everyone left Abundant Life Church, only Kleenexes remained as silent witness to a day full of tears. Dozens littered the front pews.

A crowd of close to 1,000 needed a lot of tissues to wipe away the tears they shed for a 20-year-old student and basketball player who died in an instant, leaving only memories of what was and dreams of what could have been.

Dayton Flyers center Steven Jermaine McElvene II died on May 12. His family, friends, teammates, coaches and others laid him to rest Saturday with a funeral in his hometown and a burial at Covington Cemetery. He collapsed at his family’s home on a Thursday morning, having seemed healthy to everyone who knew him, and the cause of death likely won’t be known for another two months.

Numerous speakers delivered eulogies for McElvene, who was nicknamed “Doody,” “Tree,” and “Big Steve” at different parts of his life. There was as much laughter as tears because stories of McElvene inevitably touch on his smile and sense of humor. These were the highlights:

• Dayton coach Archie Miller spoke publicly for the first time since McElvene’s death and delivered an eloquent speech with his four seniors behind him: Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard. The rest of the team, including former guard Jordan Sibert, sat in the front rows.

Miller addressed his words to McElvene, breaking down at one point as he described how the tallest player on his team was one of the best with the little kids who attended UD’s basketball camps in the summer.

“The kids would flock to you,” Miller said. “You loved the kids. You did a great job making them feel good. I feel you enjoyed the kids more than they enjoyed you.”

Miller credited McElvene for raising the volume in Dayton’s pregame dance routines. By the end of the season, he said, he knew the lyrics of McElvene’s songs. Miller said the Flyers will will think of their late teammate at every game and on every road trip and smile every time.

“Everyone was proud of you, Steve,” Miller said. “You came such a long way against odds that most people can’t fathom. Not many people gave you a chance in my opinion. Maybe that’s why we ended up together. We needed you. You needed us.”

Miller remembered meeting with McElvene less than week before his death. He talked with his fellow coaches and McElvene’s family about the next stage in his development.

“I thought it was as powerful a meeting as I’ve ever had with a player,” Miller said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is going to lead to a monster jump in his quest to realize his dreams.’ Little did I know the next time we would meet would be today. We certainly had some great moments together that we all talked about three years ago when we first met. There were tough times, too, but we all knew that was going to be the case.”

• Steve McElvene Sr., wearing a T-shirt with his son’s No. 5 on the back, spoke of the 6-foot-11 kid who towered over everyone in family full of height.

“I used to be Big Steve,” he joked. “In 1995 (when his son was born), I was proven wrong.”

McElvene remembers telling his son, “Be better than your dad. Leave Fort Wayne. Don’t get caught up in the street life. … The streets didn’t take him. God took him.”

• Kadeem McElvene, a cousin of McElvene, said he mostly talked trash with McElvene about who was the better basketball player.

“I’m going to miss my cousin a lot,” Kadeem said, “and I’m happy he was able to do what he wanted in life.”

• Vanessa Jackson, McElvene’s aunt, said McElvene sent her a photo recently of a tattoo he wanted to get with her. It read, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

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