Tom Archdeacon: 'Big Steve' making a big name for himself

What’s in a name?

As William Shakespeare put it in Romeo and Juliet: “That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.”

But what about Big Steve McElvene?

Would the University of Dayton big man seem so imposing or would he be such a favorite with Flyers fans if they knew his real nickname is Doody?

“From the time he was a little boy, we’ve called him Doody,” said his mom, Jenell Shoals. “That was his name growing up. When he got to high school he wanted to be called Tree. And now that he’s in college he wants to be Big Steve.

“But he’ll always be Doody to us.”

The name may not have changed for her — Doody must smell as sweet — but one thing certainly has. Her “little boy” is now the 6-foot-11 pivotman of the Dayton Flyers and Tuesday afternoon he gave Alabama fits while further cementing himself as something of a cult hero with the UD Arena crowd.

UD flattened the Crimson Tide, 80-48, on a national TV stage as part of ESPN’s annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, a back-to-back-to-back, 16-game broadcast that encompassed over 30 hours of basketball.

Across that wide canvas, McElvene painted an impressive enough picture for a guy playing just his second college game. The redshirt freshman finished with 13 points on 6 for 9 shooting, had 11 rebounds, two blocked shots, an assist and a steal against one turnover.

But the box score doesn’t tell the whole story, something UD coach Archie Miller touched on afterward:

“We’ve never had a guy in and around the paint that was this big.”

He said even if an opponent gets all the way to the basket, he may well miss because of McElvene’s ability to alter shots: “He has a big presence in there for us.”

Alabama’s first shot of the game — a short jumper by guard Dazon Ingram— was altered by the towering reach of McElvene. And then just over a minute later, the Flyers big man blocked a layup attempt by Retin Obasohan, Alabama’s top scorer.

Suddenly a homemade sign was held high in the Red Scare student section:

“Big Steve Says NO!”

Later in the first half, when McElvene blocked a shot by Ingram, the students began chanting his name: “Steve…Steve…Steve.”

The recognition likely will continue on campus today, said Charles Cooke, the redshirt junior transfer from James Madison, who put on his own show against the Tide: 21 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and a steal:

“He’s the biggest guy on campus. Everybody knows who Steve is.”

All this was pretty heady stuff for Jenell and the rest of the family members from the Fort Wayne area who were in the Arena.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” she admitted.

It also underscores the difference a year makes.

Coming into last season, McElvene had had trouble just getting into college after finishing his prep career at New Haven (Indiana) High School. The NCAA deemed him a partial academic qualifier, which meant he would have to build himself up in the classroom before he could play. He could practice with the team, but that was it.

Miller admitted some big-name colleges didn’t want to make the commitment to a kid they weren’t sure would pan out:

“We had a little bit of faith and believed we could give him an opportunity that other schools weren’t willing to do. We believed he would make it and we spent a lot of time working with him. (Assistant coach) Allen Griffin especially did a phenomenal job with his family and got to know Steve. And it paid off for Steve.

“Sometimes something like this can really change a guy’s life and right now, if you’d compare Steve to the guy of a year ago, you see someone who’s in college, doing well and he’s having success on the court.”

McElvene agreed: “I’ve made big improvements since coming here. Not just basketball-wise, but in my academics. That year off got me ready for college actually.”

Not that it was easy for her son, said Janell:

“It was hard for him at first to have to sit and watch. We had to give him a lot of advice — a lot. The main thing was, ‘Be patient. When it’s your time, it’s your time.’

“And it’s his time now.”

Yet, Miller stresses this is only the tip of the iceberg:

“At this stage of the game, you aren’t seeing anything near a finished product.”

While McElvene is one of the seven tallest players ever to wear a Flyers’ uniform, he wasn’t always big.

“He weighed just 6 pounds, 7 ounces when he was born and he wasn’t really long,” his mom said. “He was just an average size kid until eighth grade.

“That was my growth spurt,” McElvene said with a grin.

“He grew out of everything,” his mom said shaking her head.

While he said his size was never a problem “except for finding clothes,”his mom disagreed:

“When he first started driving, we had a Cadillac. But when he got behind the wheel, he was shifting gears with his knee … We had to get him a truck so he’d fit.”

Tuesday, she said she believes her 20-year-old son is still growing.

“The last shoes we ordered for him were size 18,” she said with a growing smile. “Now there’s a new shoe coming out on December 19th — new Jordans, I believe — and he told me to order him a pair for Christmas.

“He said he needs size 19.”

Size 19! No Doody!

That’s Big Steve.

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