Being local doesn’t necessarily make something better, but it does make that something special. It makes that something mean, well, something. Sports, food, whatever it is, those on the outside may have more resources, higher ratings and more name recognition, but they are, very clearly, “they.” Those on the inside, whatever is for or against them, are firmly considered “we.” A local product is something to be proud of, something a community can embrace and claim as their own.
In Starkville, Gavin Ware is a We, he is an Us, and he is something the locals are proud of, because he’s a local himself. A junior forward for Mississippi State’s basketball team, Gavin grew up in Starkville as a country boy riding horses and bloomed into a star on the basketball court for Starkville High School. When his talents became obvious and his name spread across the country, the biggest question facing him was the obvious one: would Starkville’s young star stay at home or skip town to play somewhere else?
There may have been pressure from classmates or other people around him, but those close to Gavin assured him, the choice was his, and he could leave if he wanted.
As you know by now, Gavin made the choice to stay at home, representing his school and city at the same time.
“Got everything I need right here at home,” he says. “I love that it’s like a small town atmosphere even though it’s a college town. I like that. The big city, there’s a lot of traffic, crime, stuff like that. Here, it’s suitable for living for a family. It’s just great.”
Great, of course, so long as he doesn’t mind being recognized. He stands out a bit anyway, pushing 6’10” and weighing somewhere in the range of 270 pounds, besides the fact that he’s been here his whole life.
“I try to wear glasses sometimes, but people still recognize me.”
Clark Kent he is not.
Gavin still remembers his first game at MSU, his first time in front of the home crowd (both school and city) as a Bulldog in Maroon and White, no longer a Yellow Jacket at SHS.
“I was very anxious,” he admitted. “I was scared that I might mess up. But after I got my feet wet a little bit, I looked up in the stands and saw my dad and it motivated me like, ‘OK, now I got my feet wet, just play.’”
By the end of that year, he was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.
Now, Gavin isn’t good because he’s from Starkville. He’d be good no matter where he was born or raised. But he’s special because of his roots, and even moreso because he chose to trust his future to his hometown, rather than try something elsewhere.
His loyalty, and what he means to the people he grew up around, is an example of any business in Starkville. It’s not the biggest city in the world. It might not even be one of the five biggest in its own state. But that’s how Gavin likes it, and that’s how the business owners who invest their livelihoods and products in the town like it, too.
Thinking of a chef preparing a meal at a restaurant, it would be far less intimidating to cook for a stranger than for family, friends and colleagues – people who know you. Gavin understands that. You want to be great for the people who care about and support you. And just as it was for Gavin, it can be reassuring, as well.
Being a local restaurant doesn’t necessarily make the food taste better (though it often does in Starkville), but it does give it that same something.
For Gavin, who weighed near 300 pounds on arrival and has made an effort to lose weight and keep it off, that local food can occasionally be a bit of danger, in a good way. Barbecue is his guilty pleasure in the offseason (“Starkville has great barbecue spots, as everyone should know,” he says), and his No. 1 comfort food is his grandmother’s homemade spaghetti.
Of course, after MSU coach Rick Ray said the best thing Gavin could do during the offseason was avoid grandma’s kitchen table, he’s not able to indulge quite as often as he would like. He’s got basketball to play.
Tonight, Gavin takes the stage on his home court for the biggest game of every season in his hometown – Ole Miss. He spent most of his childhood outdoors, not concerned with basketball, “but as I began to grow, I began to realize either it was Mississippi State or it was Ole Miss.”
Said Ray, “A [local] guy comes in with that previous knowledge and he cares about the rivalries … This game is important because he remember games like this from when he was nine years old.”
Home games for Gavin really are at home, and tonight is as big as any for him.
“If you aren’t ready for this game,” he said, “you need to have your heart checked.”
You may also want a check-up if you’ve been indulging too much in barbecue or spaghetti. But we’re not here to judge.
MEN’S BASKETBALL: As mentioned above, MSU hosts Ole Miss tonight at 8 in The Hump, broadcast on ESPN2. For those making plans to attend, they’re giving out MSU glasses (while supplies last), which is a nice little bonus.
As for the game itself, we talked to Rick Ray earlier this week a bit about Ole Miss. The biggest thing, he said, is keeping Ole Miss off the foul line. That’s where they’ve won a lot of their games, including MSU’s loss in Oxford a while back. And it’s that game more than any other that Ray said his staff has been studying as they prepared for tonight’s match-up.
BASEBALL: You’re aware by now that MSU went 4-0 on opening weekend, scoring 48 runs along the way, and you’ve likely also heard that Jacob Robson was named a National Player of the Week. If you hadn’t, now you have, and that honor comes after he reached base in 16 of 17 appearances over opening weekend.
This weekend, MSU hosts Marshall and Alabama A&M for four more games, and it should be noted the times have all been moved up on account of the cold. State plays Marshall at 4 p.m. Friday (on SEC Network+, which is now available to DirecTV customers). The doubleheader Saturday, one game against both teams, begins at noon, and the weekend finale against Alabama A&M on Sunday begins at 3 p.m., that game also on SEC Network+.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Domination update: Bulldogs are now 24-4, ranked No. 14 in the AP Top 25. MSU beat Florida at home on Sunday, though they lost a wildly entertaining double-overtime game to Kentucky last Thursday evening. As a result of her performances over those games, Victoria Vivians was named both the SEC and National Freshman of the Week. She set an MSU freshman record against Kentucky by scoring 39 points.
Next up: Vic Schaefer’s team travels to Alabama this weekend, playing at 2 p.m. Sunday with an SEC Network+ broadcast.
Continuing to rack up wins, MSU is putting itself in good position to possibly host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
WOMEN’S GOLF: This is going to surprise you: they’re still really good. Playing against an extremely competitive field last weekend, MSU finished No. 2 in the Seminole Classic (ahead of No. 1-ranked South Carolina, to name just one opponent). Starting Sunday, Ginger Brown-Lemm’s team will be competing in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate in New Orleans.
TRACK AND FIELD: Speaking of continued success… the women’s team has moved all the way up to No. 17 in the latest rankings as their rise and impressive indoor season continues. On the men’s side, National Champion Brandon McBride broke both a personal and school record in the 800-meter run last weekend. McBride’s time of 1:46.80 is currently tops in the country, a very fast half-mile.
This weekend, MSU is in South Bend for competition.
TENNIS: I might sound like I’m pumping sunshine as I move down this list, but it just kinda happens that MSU’s spring sports are really good. On the women’s side, junior Georgiana Patrasc, the 77th-ranked player in the country, was named the SEC Player of the Week after her performance over the weekend. At 6-1 and No. 71 in the country, MSU hosts Samford today at 2 p.m.
On the men’s side, MSU was off last weekend, but they’re back in action this weekend at the prestigious Blue Gray National Classic in Montgomery, with competition beginning on Friday against Princeton. Ranked No. 30 in the country, this is the 58th-straight week MSU has been in the Top 30 of the ITA poll.
MEN’S GOLF: I had a chance to talk with head coach Clay Homan earlier this week, so I’ll have more on that soon, but the Bulldogs begin their spring season on Monday at the Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate in Alabama. MSU lost a lot of productive seniors from last year’s squad, and it looks like junior Ben Wood is stepping into the role of team leader.
SOFTBALL: Mark down yet another team that’s had to move up game times due to the weather. MSU plays today at 2 p.m., hosting Southeastern Louisiana with the broadcast on SEC Network+.
The Bulldogs went 4-1 last weekend, playing a couple particularly entertaining games over a four day stretch. At 9-1 overall, Vann Stuedeman’s team is scheduled to play five more games between now and Tuesday, including a doubleheader on Saturday against Penn State when the weather, I’m told, is supposed to actually be pretty nice.
At this point, it’s worth discussing the incredible tear sophomore catcher Katie Anne Bailey is on. She’s started all 10 games and in 31 plate appearances, she’s batting an impressive .581, with a .871 slugging percentage. Bailey has 18 hits, 13 RBI, three triples and 10 runs scored in only two weekends of work.
FOOTBALL: As usual, despite the team being completely out of season, there is still football news. The NFL Scouting Combine began this week, with former Bulldogs Benardrick McKinney, Josh Robinson, Justin Cox and Preston Smith all in attendance. None have begun workouts yet, with those starting up tomorrow, but all four will have opportunities for interviews and to make impressions over the course of the extended weekend.
Projections are more difficult to track later in the draft, but it appears McKinney and Smith are both likely to be off the board in the first two days of the draft, while some projections have had both being selected in the first round.