In less than two years on campus, McElvene left a lasting impression. Cooke thinks about McElvene every day. They grew close in the 2014-15 season when both could practice with the Flyers but not play in games. Cooke sat out as a transfer, McElvene as a NCAA partial qualifier.
“He had a ton of potential. It’s just tragic,” Cooke said. “We all think the same thoughts when it comes to something like that. It’s sad, but at the end of the day, I feel like I’m doing himself and myself a disservice if I think about it that way. I had too many great moments with Steve to just be sad. I’m not going to sit there and look at it and hold my head down and be sad all the time. I’m going to still feed off the memories I have of Steve.”
Cooke was watching film with assistant coach Kevin Kuwik, who had come to visit him in his hometown of Trenton, N.J., when they heard about McElvene’s death. Davis was asleep at home in Chicago when he got a call from his girlfriend.
“She told me to check on Twitter,” Davis said. “It said Steve had passed away. I said, ‘I don’t believe it. I’ll call you back.’ ”
Smith was at a casino in Las Vegas with his aunt when he got the news.
“I had to stop. I went to my room,” Smith said. “Then it was just a blur from there. Luckily it was the end of the trip. It still hasn’t hit me. When I was at the funeral, it didn’t feel real. It felt like he was going to pop up and make a joke. Even to this day, I feel like he’s still here. When I listen to certain songs, watch certain people dance, I always remember Steve.”
Pollard was in Philadelphia when he got the text from Davis. He didn’t believe it, so he sent a text message to McElvene and asked, “Are you good?” Pollard got no response. Then he texted head coach Archie Miller.
“I was just down the whole day,” Pollard said, “and I had to be back at school for the first summer session a few days after that. It just hit me that he’s not here, because I was supposed to be in class with Steve that Monday.”
Eight days after McElvene’s death, all the Flyers drove to Fort Wayne for his funeral. The four seniors stood behind Miller as he delivered a eulogy.
“It was even more sad because I’ve never seen Arch show so much emotion,” Pollard said. “I’ve always seen him scream. I had never seen him shed a tear. For him to stand up there and deliver that speech, it was touching.”
All the players told their favorite stories of McElvene on Tuesday. Davis will most remember McElvene’s most famous quote.
“Steve was always telling (Miller), ‘I got you,’ ” Davis said. “Steve was always telling us, ‘I got you.’ That kind of replays in my head because when Steve did something wrong, he said, ‘I got you,’ and when we were trying to teach Steve something, he said, ‘I got you.’ Coach would always tell him, ‘You don’t got us. You don’t listen. Stop saying you got us.’ But that was his way of saying, ‘I understand what you’re saying.’ ”
The players are left with these memories and a 6-foot-11 hole in the locker room, on the bench, in the lineup — and in their hearts.
“I kind of want to ask him why he didn’t enter the draft just to test the waters,” Pollard said, “but I’ll never get a chance to ask him.”
Said Davis, “I guess the final picture we ever had together was when we played Rhode Island at home. Steve got a basket, and I gave him a hug. That picture will always stick with me.”