By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Gavin Ware was warned what he was getting into, but that hasn’t made it any easier to adjust.
Prior to the season, one of Ware’s uncles looked at Mississippi State’s basketball schedule and then texted the freshman, telling him, “You’re going to be playing against grown men out there.” Ware was already a big boy – maybe a little too big, and too soft.
He was 290 pounds and not in great shape. Then MSU’s strength and conditioning staff got hold of him, and Ware has transformed into a rock-solid 265-pound post presence for the Bulldogs (5-7), who open SEC play today at home versus South Carolina (7 p.m., ESPN3.com).
“Working with coach (Richard) Akins and the coaching staff, they kind of pushed me to my limit, to my breaking point,” Ware said, referring to MSU’s head strength coach. “When I found a breaking point I was like, OK now, you have hit the wall, so now it’s time to get a sledgehammer and break it down.
“Since I did that, I just found my game.”
The 6-foot-9 Ware enters league play averaging 9.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and he’s shooting 52.8 percent from the field. Because of personnel losses, Ware was forced into a starting role in late November.
He’s made seven starts and is settling into the role. Over his last three games, Ware is averaging 11.3 points and 10.7 rebounds with a pair of double-doubles.
His improvement is obvious to teammates.
“He’s in the best shape he’s ever seen,” forward Colin Borchert said. “If you’d seen him the beginning of the year and what he is now, it’s two different people.”
The other big challenge Ware has faced is first-year coach Rick Ray’s motion offense. Ware was lost in it.
“I think sometimes he was in the center of a tornado,” Ray said.
So the coach simplified things for his big man.
“I felt I did a bad job at the beginning of making things too complicated for him, and he never set down and posted,” Ray said. “Now we simplified things where he’s just setting one screen, he’s ducking in and our guys are starting to see when he’s open.”
Ware said keeping it simple has made it easier for him to know his role as a post player, and it’s helped him grow as a player.
“When we first started off I was a little confused, but as we got on, he made it simpler (rather) than complex,” he said. “Finally I let it come to me. I just started playing my game.”