Gavin Ware came to Mississippi State with a good amount of potential on the basketball court.
In his freshman season, he has made a big impact. Much of that's due to the fact that there are only seven healthy scholarship players, but nonetheless, he has given the Bulldogs a lift in the post.
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound former Starkville High School player came to MSU a little overweight. It didn't take long for head coach Rick Ray to get him in the shape to play college basketball.
"He is in the best condition he's ever been in in his life," Ray said. "That really helps him as far as his mobility, being able to move around and get some of those passes."
There is no doubt that Ware looks better than his senior year at Starkville High School. The freshman is averaging 8.3 points per game, 6.9 rebounds and is shooting 53 percent from the field.
Ware has also been selected as Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week after scoring 22 points and pulling down 13 rebounds against Central Arkansas in a 79-72 win in Jackson on Dec. 22, 2012.
"He has good hands," Ray said. "When I first got here and started working with him, his hands were never a problem. He has really good hands and that's one of the the things you look for in post guys."
When Ray arrived at MSU, he brought a motion offense with him. Ray tried to use the whole playbook, but with inexperienced and young guys, it was hard for them to comprehend.
Ray has taken a different approach, especially with Ware.
"The thing that has helped out Gavin the most, I simplified some things in our motion offense for him," Ray said. "I thought sometimes he was in the center of a tornado. He was always looking for somebody to screen and he was always late. Now he knows what he is doing and he can concentrate on setting that one single screen. When he ducks in he is such a big body that it is hard for anybody to prevent him from getting some sort angle on his duck in. When he sets a screen, he also provides an angle for himself to post as well."
In Ware's last two games he has scored 21 points and made 7-of-11 field goals. His play may help open some things on the perimeter.
"When I duck in, that brings people into me and that gives open opportunities out to the guards," Ware said.
With such little depth, the Bulldogs struggle with a pressing defense. MSU played an Arkansas team and a Florida team that like to use full-court pressure.
It has limited the Bulldogs scoring.
"At the end of the day, when teams are pressuring you or you’re having a hard time of scoring, the closer you get the ball to the paint, the more opportunities you have to break down a defense," Ray said. "Whether that be with guys who can dribble-drive into the paint or you can just simply post-feed the ball into the paint. Gavin Ware gives us that post presence."
MSU started out 2-0 in the SEC. Since then, it has suffered four losses.
The Bulldogs (7-1, 2-4) have a chance to get back to .500 in the SEC. MSU plays Texas A&M (12-7, 2-4) tonight at 8 p.m. inside Humphrey Coliseum. It can be seen on CSS. They return home Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. tip against LSU.
"These are two winnable games as coach said so all we have to do is just believe in that and in ourselves," Ware said. "We have to believe in ourselves."
The Bulldogs struggled early in the season. Against South Carolina and Georgia, MSU seemed to leave the bad start behind and were turning over new leaf.
"One thing coach pointed out is when we won our first two SEC games and then lost our next two, we were going back to our old habits that we'd played with early in the season," Ware said. "Now is not the time to go back to those old habits. We have to progress. In the Florida game, there was speculation that Florida was better than us and we still had to play hard and give our best effort on the court."
The Aggies have lost their last four games as well so it will be a battle for both teams to remain in shouting distance of the leaders in the SEC.
Texas A&M is led by Elston Turner who is averaging 15.7 points per game. Fabyon Harris and Ray Turner are both averaging just over 10 points per contest.