Gavin Ware, most who have followed his career have remarked, has been ready to take on a starring role in the SEC for some time. A central piece at Mississippi State since arriving as a freshman, Ware has spent the last few years not as a sleeping giant necessarily, but maybe as one who had just got up from a nap and was perhaps a little groggy.
As a senior, Ware has shaken out whatever cobwebs and weariness had seemingly attached themselves to his game the last few years (“I don’t know what was going through my head.”) and now he’s becoming a dominant force for the Bulldogs. First year head coach Ben Howland, along with new director of basketball performance David Deets, saw the potential in Ware as soon as he got to campus. He just needed to figure out how to flip whatever switch it was inside of the 6’9” forward that would get his game to its highest potential.
“I thought, when I looked at him, ‘Wow, this kid has a chance to be a good player, especially at the offensive end,’” Howland recalled before praising Ware’s commitment to getting his body into shape. “I think Coach Deets has really helped him there. Sometimes, as a senior, the light goes on. This is it.”
16 games into the year and four games into the conference slate, Ware is having the kind of season that seems likely to end with All-SEC honors by the time it’s over. He’s scored in double figures every game this season, averaging 17.1 points per game, tied for seventh overall in the SEC and second behind only LSU star Ben Simmons among pure forwards.
Ware is sixth in the league at 8.0 rebounds per game, tied for third with 55 of them on the offensive end. He’s got five double-doubles. His 32.48 player efficiency rating is 5th in the country, second in the SEC behind, again, Simmons, the likely No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft.
Just as importantly, he’s doing the most with the opportunities given to him, leading the entire conference with a 63.6 field goal percentage. He’s the only player in the league shooting over 60 percent, the next closest checking in at 56.7, and one of only five in the SEC shooting over 50 percent.
Of all his impressive numbers, that may be the one he’s the most excited to claim. In practice, from which anecdotes of his shooting performances regularly emerge, coaches call Ware “Mr. Consistency” for the way he always performs and always performs well.
“I take pride in that, just being consistent with my passing, with my scoring, with my defense,” Ware said. “Everything I can do to help out my team.”
The talent for that consistency was always there, but the physical ability to perform game in and game out was not. Ware hadn’t been in bad shape, necessarily, but he was a good ways farther from great shape than he wanted to be.
When the reality hit him prior to the season that this was his last chance, Ware set out to change that. Over the course of the summer, he nearly spent more time in the gym than at home, coming in on his own to train, losing weight and working on his game every chance he had.
Fellow senior Craig Sword was at the facility daily for treatments for an injury during the offseason and can hardly recall a day he didn’t see Ware.
“When I was injured, I would always be here, and I would see him here shooting, running,” Sword remembered. “It shows.”
Sword and Howland aren’t the only ones to notice, as coaches around the league have drawn attention to Ware’s breakout senior campaign.
Said Florida head coach Mike White ahead of his Gators hosting MSU tonight, “Gavin Ware is playing as well as any big guy in our league.”
The success wouldn’t be possible, Ware and Howland say, had it not been for getting in such good shape. With a lack of depth in the post, MSU needs Ware to play as many minutes as anyone else on the team, and they can’t settle for him only playing hard on one side. For the Bulldogs to be good, Ware has to get up and down the court constantly, has to be at his best both on offense and defense.
To this point, he’s done it, particular on the offensive end, where his success in the post has helped open things up for the rest of his team.
As good as he’s been so far, Ware expects to do even more as the thick of SEC play continues. Howland is all for it.
“We can’t get him enough touches, in my opinion,” Howland said.
And Ware is excited to do it. As much pressure as there is on him, it doesn’t bother him a bit. He is, very clearly, in the best shape of his life, and he’s playing like it.
“I don’t get jitters or butterflies when I walk on the floor to tip the ball off,” he said. “It’s like ‘OK, Gavin, you know what you’re supposed to do. Let’s get it done.’”