Starkville High School basketball player Gavin Ware, left, discusses his intention to play for Mississippi State, while his father Calvin, middle, and SHS athletic director Stan Miller listen in. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
By JOEL COLEMAN
Let the record show that on Thursday in the Starkville High School library, Gavin Ware was the only Yellowjacket to give a verbal commitment to the Mississippi State men's basketball program.
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Only Ware announced his future intentions to don the maroon and white of MSU and battle in the rigorous Southeastern Conference.
Yet, as the 6-foot-8, 240-pound center told the world he planned to change home gyms from the Beehive to Humphrey Coliseum beginning with the 2012-13 season, a contingent of Ware's current teammates sat in the corner of the room, seemingly ready to begin singing a rendition of 'Hail State' at any moment in support of their favorite big man.
"Gavin is like a brother to me," said SHS senior-to-be Jacolby Mobley. "He's not just a teammate, he's like a brother to all of us."
That close relationship was obvious on Thursday. There was no mandate for Mobley and other members of the SHS squad to attend Ware's press conference. There was no incentive to come and sit while Ware eloquently answered questions from the media regarding how and why he came to the conclusion he wanted to remain in Starkville as a member of the Bulldogs.
Still, many of the Jackets came, out of respect, out of admiration and out of friendship.
Mike Brand, also heading into his senior season with SHS, indicated the presence of so many teammates at Thursday's gathering was a small way of paying back Ware for everything he's done for all of them.
"He always supports each of us," said Mike Brand. "When I miss a few shots in games, he'll always be right there saying 'Come on. You can do this.' He's always been right there encouraging everybody, verbally and with his actions."
Ware wasn't shocked to see the likes of Mobley, Brand and others on Thursday. The man of the hour actually seemed to know his friends would be in attendance.
"They've all been coming up to me saying 'What's up Bulldog?,'" said Ware. "All of us, we've always had chemistry. We're always going over to each other's houses, spending time with each other. We're just like a family."
The relationship between Ware and the rest of the Jackets has been nothing short of a roaring success through the years. In the last two seasons combined, SHS has tallied a record of 50-11, brought home a Class 6A championship and Grand Slam title in 2010, then came up just two wins shy of a second-straight state crown in 2011.
In that time, Ware has gone from an ultra-promising everyday starter to the Jackets' unquestioned centerpiece.
Yet Ware realizes he didn't do it all on his own.
"Sometimes, we'd get done with practice and I'd be ready to put on my shoes and go home," said Ware. "Then Jacolby or somebody would want to go back and work some more, shoot some more jumpers and stuff like that. I'd be tired then, but looking back on it, those guys pushed me to do things and gave me endurance to do more."
SHS head coach Greg Carter, the veteran leader of the closely-knitted Jackets, saw Ware's improvements game by game and year by year.
Like Ware, Carter is quick to point out just how big a role the supporting cast played in pushing Ware to the point he is now.
"There's no question about it, part of (Ware's) success is due to his teammates," said Carter. "Being a post player, you have to rely on guards to get you the ball. You've got to do the work to get it, but the guards have to get it to you. Without them, you won't be successful."
Behind Ware's dedication and contributions from other Jackets, Ware has now ultimately reached the expectations that many had for him earlier in his high school career.
Many, Carter included, believed Ware had the potential to play big-time college basketball and Thursday's announcement solidified that fact.
Now all that's left is for Ware to sign the dotted line when he's able to do so in November.
Skeptics may say that there's plenty of time for Ware to change his mind and renege on his commitment to Mississippi State.
Another classmate and teammate, Tory Rice, indicates that probably won't be happening as he has always felt that Ware would stay close to home.
"There hasn't been a doubt in my mind where he'd go," said Rice. "Mississippi State was always in his heart. I always felt he'd stay home and wouldn't go too far."
Rice's prediction now appears to be at hand.
On the day it officially comes true, when Ware steps onto the court at MSU for the first time, Ware says he'll be playing as a tribute to Carter, Rice, Mobley, Brand and all the other teammates and coaches that helped get him there.
"When I play, I'll definitely still remember all of them," said Ware.