Through Mississippi State’s first seven games, the numbers are there for senior Gavin Ware: averages of 20 points and 7.9 rebounds. Four 20-point games. Three double-doubles.
But the most important number is this: 260.
As in pounds.
The 6-9 Ware hovered around the 300 mark earlier in his career, but there is a lot less to him now. And a lot more to his game, as he has shown in leading MSU to a 4-3 start heading into Saturday’s game at UMKC on ASN.
There is a simple reason for his improved conditioning, he said with a laugh: “Staying away from grandma’s house.”
And certainly that has been a factor. Ware, a Starkville native, used to love to visit the grandmother in question, one Etolie Barnes. And she loved cooking for him.
But as he said, “She doesn’t cook like she used to, and I’m fine with that.”
There is a little more to the story. David Deets, the Bulldogs’ new director of basketball performance, arrived this year and began monitoring Ware’s eating habits. “Gavin is a lot leaner,” Deets told the Starkville Daily News in July. “He’s bought in. I’m watching him eat three times a day. When he’s not with me, he’s texting me what he’s eating. So he’s buying in to what we’re doing and cooking for himself and hydrating the right way and drinking the right things and cutting out the sodas and the sweet tea and the lemonade and drinking the water.”
Deets continues to be vigilant, offering advice about nutrition and workouts.
“Being with him, and with his modern, updated mindset, with technology and stuff, I’ll be more agile and run up and down the floor more swiftly than I did my first three years here,” Ware said.
It has been a long, challenging stretch. The Bulldogs haven’t had a winning season since Ware arrived, going a combined 37-60 with 13-game losing streaks each of the first two years, and two five-gamers last winter.
Now they have a new coach in Ben Howland. Best known for leading UCLA to three straight Final Fours (2006-08), he replaced Rick Ray, who was fired after last season.
“I was very excited to have the coaching experience coming in, to try to turn this program around,” Ware said, “because that’s what we really need.”
Ware, one of five seniors on the team, has been a willing supplicant. Besides improving his conditioning he has endeavored to become more of a leader, to make the most of the time he has left.
“This is my last year,” he said. “I want to give it all I’ve got, so I can be remembered at Mississippi State.”
His fast start has propelled him past the 1,000-point mark for his career, and moved him into 10th on the Bulldogs’ all-time rebounding list, with 709. It is the kind of production for which he might have hoped when he elected to stay close to home, after starring at Starkville High School.
Georgetown expressed interest at that point, he recalled. So too did “almost every” SEC school. But he believed he could play right away at MSU, and liked the school’s academic offerings. He is majoring in interdisciplinary studies, with a concentration on general education, physical education and psychology, the idea being that he will someday get into coaching.
He made the SEC’s All-Freshman team his first season, averaging 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. He has generated 10 points and seven rebounds a game each of the last two seasons, and now is hoping for a big finish.
That appears more likely, now that he is so much smaller. And now that there are fewer visits to grandma’s house.
Above: Once he cut out the sweets and sodas, Mississippi State’s Gavin Ware said he feels more agile and able to run the court better (Courtesy MSU Athletics)