"He came in yesterday and ran on the treadmill an hour, on his own," the strength coach reported.
Such summer exertions are why Mississippi State has such increased expectations of their young center heading into this season. Though the ‘increase' part directly relates to a ‘decrease' in Ware's sophomore size. Calling him slim and trim might still be a stretch but there has been obvious progress made in refining his physique.
"I've been doing anything I can do possible to get my weight down," Ware said. "So I can be more agile on the court, more physical and tougher."
Understand, nobody is saying Ware was some sort of freshman softy. The all-state signee out of Starkville High gave a respectable account of himself last season, providing 8.4 points on 54% shooting with a team-best 6.4 rebounds. And if scoring and boarding were, naturally, a little lower in SEC season than overall, Ware's shooting was actually better in league play at 56%. As were his minutes.
Still the strains showed over a long season, not only from being a freshman but because injuries to a short roster left him the lone true post-player. Ware doesn't plan on pulling any solo act again…but he does intend to be in strong enough shape to do so if necessary.
"I'm doing everything to get my body in shape in the off-season, even though it may be hard sometimes. Just trying to be a hometown hero for people, I try to get better for the school, coaches, players, just help my team win."
Ware's biggest way to help is to get smaller. And per Akins, "He's done a fantastic job, his weight is down and he's kept his weight off." The defined goal is for Ware to weigh-in between 260 and 265 on the first day of team practices in October. "He is at 270 right now but we don't worry so much right now, we want him at a weight when practice starts. That's our goal-time for everything. He's moving really well right now."
By moving away from the table a little earlier, for one thing. That's no easy thing for a fellow who not only has the standard student-athlete meal plans but easy access to his home. And the Ware family can spread a fine table as his high school size showed. Staying away is still a challenge…
…until Ware recalls what he looked like a year ago this time.
"I just try to work each and every day because I don't want to go back to that, coming in at 290. That gives other players and edge on me, they say he's slow and can't run. I want to be a player that they say ‘I have to play against him' because we're on the same level."
Ware makes quite a mature point there. It is a truism at times but the fact remains, personal experience is usually the sharpest teacher. Ware spent a freshman year measuring himself, in both body and brain, against seasoned college post players. As those numbers showed he could hold his own, at times. Just not all game, every game as the schedule ground on.
And Ware is grateful for the lessons. "I looked up to those guys. And I give credit to them because they made me work every single play. So I tried to match my game to them, to be mentally and physically tough like they were."
"He understands," agreed Akins. "A freshman at this level, you can tell them about it all you want to. But until they go through a year of it, the competition they have to play against, they're not going to understand it totally. Gavin understands what he has to do."
First and foremost, get into a shape Ware never imagined before. Or for that matter would have tried to achieve. Take last week's voluntary trip to the treadmill. Last summer, "I probably would have had to be told!" Ware said. "But now that I've had that mentality to get better and probably go to the next level I'll try to do it on my own." The mentality comes from motivation, naturally.
"Oh, man, just to have an edge on everyone in conditioning season. To be able to run more, to be able to endure more. That's why I don't care if the season is months away, that just gives me more time to work on my individual game as well as team game."
"I see him all the time trying to eat healthy and stay in shape," said guard and classmate Fred Thomas. "And after workouts if he's over his weight he'll get on the treadmill so he can lose and maintain his weight."
There is one complication to Ware's work on the game. He's been the only full-strength center on campus, as Wendell Lewis continues recovery from his December injury. The good news there is Lewis has been approved for a second senior season by the NCAA, so Ware won't be alone much longer. "It is going to be great to have another big body in there, even though he's like 85% its still good to have another big body in there to help me out. To bang with big guys in the SEC."
So who is he thumping with these days? Assistant coaches George Brooks and Chris Hollender have drawn summer-center duty for the individual and small-group workouts allowed this time of year. Of the two, Ware says he has an easier time scoring on Brooks. "Because he's getting old! Hollender is still able to bang down in there!" And while it is fun beating-up on the bosses a little, there is a serious summer purpose.
"I'm just trying to use every little key thing they tell me, just to take it and apply it every day on the court. Any little thing they can give me, I use that to the best of my abilities to get better."
For now the assistants are assisting with Ware's post moves, refining the steps and positioning and such. "On down the line we'll start working with the guards," he said. Ware already knows what pace is required to work with Craig Sword, Thomas, et.al., during pickup play. And then there's the new kid, I.J. Ready, who has really sped things up.
"I tell him to hold on sometimes, but he makes me come on. That's what we're looking for in the freshmen guards, to come in and be a scoring threat and sometimes call the shots." Or take them even. Meanwhile old Dog Jalen Steele continues rehabbing his injured knee to be ready for October. "He's trying to get that leg stronger so that when he gets that done we can do more with him," Ware reported. "Even stationary he's still working, ten times harder than we are!"
Which is saying something. Because Ware is doing plenty of hard work himself, dropping the weight and increasing the stamina. Where once Ware preferred ‘practicing' himself into game shape just before the season, as a sophomore he understands that is what summer is for. "The way we have it set up, as soon as we start practice I want to be in the best shap and just work on my game from there.
"Like Coach Akins says, it separates the men from the boys. So I'm trying to be a man in this league."