With arguably the biggest single sporting event looming on Sunday night, it is only fitting that two of the biggest boys' basketball players in the area clash less than 24 hours before the Super Bowl kicks off.
Nearly 15 feet of interior dominance will collide at New Haven on Saturday night when 6-foot-11 Steve McElvene and the Bulldogs host Homestead, featuring 6-foot-7 freshman Caleb Swanigan.
It is a huge matchup in not only personnel, but also when it comes to NHC title ramifications. If the Spartans win, they clinch their third consecutive outright league crown. New Haven can tie Homestead atop the standings with a victory with one league game remaining for each team.
“This is a game we want to get,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said.
While both teams have plenty of talent outside, all eyes will be on the battle in the paint. Swanigan has continued to grow throughout the season as he adjusts to the high school game, as has his teammates who have gotten used to having a consistent threat in the lane.
“Anytime you have an inside game, it makes your guards that much better,” Johnson said. “His numbers are pretty good with (15 points and 11 rebounds per game) and that is just going to improve as the years go on and he improves.”
Speaking of improvement, McElvene has taken great strides in his game over the last several weeks. The center is playing smarter when it comes to fouls, not putting himself in positions to pick them up in bunches.
It is no coincidence that New Haven's current six-game win streak coincides with the junior playing his best basketball of the season.
“He keeps getting better especially defensively and rebounding,” New Haven coach Al Gooden said. “Our kids are playing hard and playing with some efficiency.”
The beauty of Saturday's game is that the battle in the paint is not the only place on the floor where talent will collide. V.J. Beachem is averaging nearly 22 points per game for New Haven while Jordan Hogue and Jabar Ray have been solid complementary players for the Bulldogs (10-4) . Point guard Monte Stevenson has been solid protecting the basketball for New Haven.
“We are a decent team,” Gooden said. “When we play defense and rebound, we can be pretty good.”
Senior guard Nick Gamble is averaging 14 points and dishing five assists per contest for the Spartans. Seth Coate and John Geller have been solid inside-out players as well for Homestead (14-3).
“It is going to be a tough task for us matching up with (Beachem) and the rest of their players,” Johnson said. “But we expect to keep it close and make it a game.”
Swanigan has played against some tough players inside already this season, including Brian Gremaux at Concordia Lutheran and the sizable forwards that Class 4A No. 4 Munster is able to put on the floor. But playing against McElvene brings its own set of challenges.
“Obviously, he is a talent,” Johnson said. “We have our work cut out for us. But we have a few things up our sleeve with what we want to do with Caleb (inside). We will see how Coach Gooden reacts to them.”
Tale of the Tape
McElvene vs. Swanigan
Junior Class Freshman
6-foot-11 Height 6-foot-7
283 lbs. Weight 285 lbs.
7.6 PPG 15.0
7.6 RPG 11.0
N/A Nickname “Biggie”