Wright State guard recalls friendship with Dayton’s Steve McElvene


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Wright State point guard Justin Mitchell grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., and was a childhood friend of Steve McElvene, the Dayton center who died tragically last spring and left so much promise in basketball and life unfulfilled.

Mitchell had gotten a call from Indiana guard James Blackmon that McElvene had passed away. After checking with a mutual friend to confirm it, Mitchell took the news hard.

“I went in the bathroom and cried. I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.

The two played on the same AAU team and were road roommates. And they dreamed of going to high school and college together, though that didn’t pan out.

“Steve and I, we called ourselves brothers,” Mitchell said.

The two lost track of each for a stretch while McElvene moved to Alabama, and Mitchell couldn’t believe how his friend had sprouted during his time away.

“We used to argue about who was taller,” Mitchell said. “He moved to Alabama and came back our freshman year in high school. That was the first time I’d seen him since elementary school, and he was 7-foot. I was like, oh my gosh, I should’ve moved to Alabama with him.”

Mitchell grew to 6-4, and he’s taller than most point guards the Raiders will face this season. He’s been parlaying that height into some impressive rebounding numbers.

He had a game-high 11 in an 85-81 season-opening win Friday at Southern Illinois, helping the Raiders to a 41-25 edge. The junior has been a proficient rebounder for a perimeter player, snagging nine in a game as a freshman and eight several times in his first two years.

“It’s just reading how the ball comes off the rim and having a high motor,” he said. “I like to be everywhere on the court. I like to fill the stat sheet.”

He did that at Wayne High School in Indiana, averaging 11 rebounds as a senior and once pulling down 30 in a game.

“I think I had 19 at the half that game. I was one of the biggest players on my team, so I had to do it,” he said.

He’s also one of the biggest players at Wright State, which starts 6-8 forward Steven Davis at the 5 spot with four guards.

“He’s always one of our top rebounders in practice, and that’s going to show up in a game,” coach Scott Nagy said. “We need him to keep doing that. But we also need him to take care of the basketball.”

Mitchell had nine points and seven turnovers in his point-guard debut.

“If you play great defense and rebound, that makes up for some of the mistakes he had,” Nagy said. “I anticipate he’s going to do a lot better job taking care of the ball.”

Mitchell returned to Fort Wayne for McElvene’s funeral and remembers the good-natured player the same way those at Dayton do.

“Big heart, big smile, kind. He loved to dance. He was just goofy, man,” Mitchell said. “It’s crazy he had an enlarged heart and died. He was definitely going to the NBA. He got the (single-season) block record at Dayton as a freshman. He had a lot of potential.”

Mitchell had some poignant moments with McElevene’s mother, Jenell Shoals.

“I told his mom, ‘Whatever you need, I’ll always be there for you.’ She says she wants a kitchen when I make it, if I go pro, so she could just cook all the time. I told her if I get there, she’s got it. That’s family,” he said.

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