By JOEL COLEMAN
First as a Yellowjacket, then as a Bulldog, Gavin Ware has been making a name for himself on the basketball courts in Starkville for quite awhile. Whether it was at Starkville High’s Beehive or Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum, Ware’s days on the hardwood have centered around his hometown.
Now a senior at MSU, Ware’s days of playing basketball in Starkville are winding down, but the homegrown talent is putting forth a grand finale for those who have watched him for years.
“When we first started playing (this season) against Eastern Washington, I thought this was it for me,” Ware said. “A few days ago when we finished up our last non-conference game and were about to start conference play, I had to realize this is my last time going into conference play, last time going to the tournament and last everything. I really have to finish out with a bang. That is really what I am trying to do.”
So far, so good for Ware. Though the center struggled in his most recent outing in MSU’s 81-78 loss at Florida on Tuesday when he scored just five points and brought down only one rebound, the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder has been MSU’s most impactful player this season.
Prior to Tuesday, Ware scored in double-digits in each of the Bulldogs’ first 16 games this season, the most since Tony Watts accomplished the feat in 28-straight contests in 1992-93.
Ware has posted five double-doubles this year and claimed Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors after the season opener.
While he’d experienced personal success prior to this season – being named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team in his debut campaign and finishing second on the MSU squad in scoring in his sophomore and junior seasons – Ware is attributing this year’s standout performance to mental and physical changes he has made to his game.
“”I’m just being very humble with myself,” Ware said. “Also, my conditioning has gotten a lot better. I believe if you are able to run up and down the floor then you can perform on offense and defense. I believe that has been the main key along with my workouts and working on my shots. We spend countless hours on our shots, free throws, jump hooks and post moves. I believe that all plays in effect.”
It all has come together to make Ware MSU’s most potent threat. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding this year, averaging 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Ware’s teammates have taken notice and given credit for how hard the big man has worked to improve his game from years past.
“He has lost a lot of weight,” senior guard Craig Sword said of Ware. “This summer I saw him in the gym a lot, like when I was injured and he was always here. He was always in the gym shooting and running. It showed up this year.”
Ware said his offseason schedule was grueling. He was determined to make the changes he needed to make in order to be a bigger factor than ever before.
“One day I was getting treatment and getting my body ready for practice or one day getting back to being on the cardio machine and altitude machine,” Ware said. “I was just trying to get my body in top-level shape so I can play those long minutes (MSU head coach Ben Howland) wants me to play. It was seven days of the week and if I wasn’t at the Hump I was probably sick at home.”
Ware’s dedication continues to pay off individually. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs haven’t been so fortunate as a group. MSU enters Saturday’s 1 p.m. home game against rival Ole Miss sporting just a 7-10 overall record. The Bulldogs are winless through their first five SEC games for the first time in three decades.
Mississippi State is anxious to get its season turned around. For that to happen, Howland believes one of the biggest keys is for the hometown boy to just keep up the good work.
“We need Gavin to be successful every night,” Howland said. “It starts with him.”