By Logan Lowery
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference last season.
The Bulldogs finished 10-22 but four of those victories came in conference play – good enough to finish one spot out of the cellar.
It may not have been much, but that was one of the positives in Rick Ray was able to take away from his tumultuous first season in Starkville. This year, MSU was predicted to finish 13th at SEC Media Days ahead of Auburn.
Ray’s roster was decimated by attrition, suspensions and injuries last season leaving as little as six scholarship players available for games. One benefit from that is the Bulldogs will have all five starters returning this season.
Trivante Bloodman, Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Colin Borchert and Gavin Ware were all first-year players at the Division I level but return with a year of starting experience under their belt to run Ray’s motion offense.
“I think the thing that will change is guys will have a grasp of the motion offense that they didn’t have,” Ray said. “Anytime that you have experienced basketball players in your program, you’re motion offense is always going to be better.”
Only one of Ray’s recruits, point guard I.J. Ready, will be eligible to play this season but the return of wing Andre Applewhite and point guard Jacoby Davis will also help. Applewhite and Davis missed the entire 2012-13 season with knee injuries.
The 6-foot-11 center signee Fallou Ndoye is ineligible until next season but is able to practice with the team. His addition, along with that of three walk-ons, has given the Bulldogs a full squad to scrimmage with in practice, something they were unable to do last year.
“There are more bodies,” Ware said. “Last year we had the coaches play. We used to bang with them. Now with more bodies, it is more competitive. Everyone is fighting for a position. Now, there is more intensity; more competition. I think that will carry over into the game.”
Ware is a hometown product that signed with State in the 2012 class.
But the former four-star Starkville High prospect battled weight issues throughout his career.
When Ware arrived on campus last summer, he tipped the scales at nearly 300-pounds on his 6-foot-9 frame.
He was able to get down to 275-pounds last season starting 27 of the 32 games in which he played averaging 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds earning Freshman All-SEC honors.
Ware has shed 12 more pounds during the offseason and hopes to be at 260-pounds by the time the season tips off next month.
“It helped me become more agile and move my feet a little bit more,” Ware said. “When I decreased in weight, I gained strength. I am able to have a longer wind. I’m able to get up and down the floor more quickly and more easily than last year. With defense, I can move my feet more.”