STARKVILLE – The pressure Gavin Ware is feeling this offseason is nothing new to him.
The Mississippi State senior center had pressure thrown on his shoulders when he arrived as a freshman in the summer of 2012 under coach Rick Ray. The Bulldogs had a slim roster meaning Ware and his fellow freshmen guard Craig Sword and Fred Thomas were going to have to play right away and make an immediate impact.
Ware and his two fellow freshmen handled the pressure well, although, it never translated into wins for the Bulldogs. The former Starkville High school standout averaged 8.4 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds during his rookie season on his way to being named to the All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team.
Ware, now under the direction of first-year coach Ben Howland, has similar pressure on his shoulders being the most experienced post player on the roster.
“I can’t let that get to me,” Ware said. “Being an experienced guy and being one of the leaders on the team, you just can’t let that get to you. You just have to put that behind you and just keep working, keep moving forward and keep doing things on and off the court to make your body better.”
Ware and the Bulldogs begin practice Oct. 5 and get the season underway Nov. 13 with a home game against Eastern Washington.
Ware said the pressure in the first three seasons has helped him handle the pressure this time round.
He has always had pressure put on him with his weight, and it has been an uphill battle keeping his weight where it needs to be to compete in the SEC and at the Division I level.
He has admitted in the past he would eat whenever he felt like it, but things have been different so far with a new coaching staff. Assistant coach Ernie Zeigler says new strength and conditioning coach David Deets has made an impression on Ware.
“It’s a personal challenge for him,” Zeigler said. “As long as he stays true to the things he’s been doing over the last few months, I see him winning that battle of keeping his weight down and being a really productive player.”
The 6-foot-9 Ware has brought his weight down to 260 pounds and most of that is muscle. There were times in the past where it crept over the 300 mark.
Ware has taken it upon himself to be in the best shape of his life for his final season with the Bulldogs. He realized that there were times in the past where he would take a couple of plays off just to recover.
He doesn’t want that to happen this season.
“I carry that very heavily,” Ware said. “It’s more on me as well as my conditioning. After I get through playing 30 seconds of defense, how can I condition myself to go back down 30 more seconds on offense and be able to stay in the post, move my feet and actually get the ball and score for my teammates?”
After averaging single digits as a freshman, Ware has averaged double digits the last two seasons. As a sophomore and junior, he averaged 10 points per contest. He has never averaged double digits in rebounds though, as he was sixth in the conference with 7.2 as a sophomore and seventh in the SEC with 7.1 last season.
Zeigler says they have worked with Ware on being more efficient with his playing time and he hopes that translates to him having big numbers this season.
“Gavin has done a really job of working on his body and working on his endurance, so hopefully that will put him in a position to work to run the floor and get more easy baskets,” Zeigler said. “Hopefully it will help him work to fight for post position that will put him in position to get to the foul line more to increase his production, and lastly, going to the offensive boards every time which will put him in position to hopefully average two offensive boards or more per game.”
When Zeigler watches film on Ware from the last couple of seasons, he’s really impressed with his perimeter shot and his ability to rebound in traffic. Ware made 54.2 percent of his shots from the field as a freshman, 58.1 percent as a sophomore and 50 percent as a junior last season.
Along with inexperience in the post, the Bulldogs have some injury problems that have really affected Ware’s practice regiment. Sophomore forward Fallou Ndoye is out until late October after having surgery on his right wrist. Senior froward Travis Daniels is coming off sports hernia surgery, but most of his playing time last season came on the wing. Freshman forward Aric Holman had knee surgery Wednesday and he could be out for the rest of the season.
Zeigler said things have been tough on Ware getting quality reps, but the center has taken it upon himself in his personal workouts to get better.
“It’s really being a self starter about his workout,” Zeigler said. “He’s being doing it. He’s really embracing the challenge to trying to become more efficient and having a great senior season for us.”
Ware believes he can average 20 points and 15 rebounds this season, but his biggest goal is to be the type of teammate that can help his team win and win often.
“(I just want to be) an all around leader and just be able to give it all I’ve got every second I’m out there on the floor,” Ware said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.