October 18, 2013 8:53:02 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Every time Rick Ray talks about Gavin Ware he uses the word "throwback" as if he is using the lingo of a past generation of basketball.
In Ware, the Mississippi State University men's basketball team's second-year coach has a traditional post player who likes to stay in the paint. But more and more post players, including numerous international standouts, like to drift to the perimeter -- even beyond the 3-point arc -- to stretch defenses. Ray is glad his 260-pound sophomore center knows who and what he is.
"I like being described as that old-school post player that likes having his back to the basket, likes banging with the big bodies, and likes the physicality of the game," Ware said Thursday at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
The same week he accepted the job as MSU mens' basketball coach, Ray was in Ware's living room explaining how he saw the four-star prospect from Starkville High School developing at the next level.
"He made sure I understood my role very quickly, and I liked what I heard from him because he was honest with me about being 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, so there's no business for you being out on the perimeter," Ware said. "That kind of honesty was refreshing and showed he had my best interest as a basketball player. I'd follow Coach Ray through anything now."
Ray has said that reality and honesty will be the trademark of his recruiting efforts as he tries to rebuild a program that went 10-22 last season.
"I think you see that in recruiting nowadays where a kid is told all these things and then he arrives on campus and realizes his role isn't what he signed up to do," Ray said. "The players we identify and recruit are going to always know how we see them helping this program win games and also helping them become better basketball players along with better people."
Ware, who grew up in Starkville modeling his game after All-NBA First-Team center Dwight Howard, averaged 8.4 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game last season. He and guard Craig Sword were MSU's selections to the All-Southeastern Conference freshman team. Ray hopes Ware, Sword, and sophomore Fred Thomas will help MSU make a drastic improvement.
"I wanted to be Dwight Howard as a younger player, but then quickly realized I can't jump like that," Ware said. "It's hard nowadays because I see games on television and other college teams on film, and there's not a lot of players like me."
Ware was one of two players -- Wendell Lewis was the other -- on the 2012-13 roster not to attempt a 3-pointer. The freshman, who arrived on campus weighing more than 290 pounds, has trimmed down to 263 pounds. Part of his weight loss has been identifying what he can eat every day, which means he can't make late-night trips to Waffle House like he did last year.
"What we're asking Craig Sword and Fred Thomas to do with their body is so much easier than what we're asking Gavin to do on a daily basis," Ray said. "We're making him monitor his daily caloric intake, and that proves to me he has the inner desire to get better at this game on his own. We can't be there 24 hours a day for him."
Ray said Thursday that Ware reminds him of two players -- Carl Landry and JaJuan Johnson -- he worked with as an assistant under Matt Painter at Purdue. Landry finished his three-year college career averaging 18.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. He is entering his ninth season in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings. As a senior, Johnson was a consensus-All America selection and the Big Ten Conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year.
Ware played four years at Starkville High for former MSU forward Greg Carter, who lettered from 1988-91. Ware said Carter helped prepare him for the next level by showing him how to develop a low-post game.
"Every day I went and worked for coach Carter I felt like he was giving me all the playbook to how he was successful as a player," Ware said. "When I got to coach Ray, it was a easy transition because he wanted me to play like that, too."
The increased in the number of post players who play facing the basket and the influx of forwards and centers from overseas who shoot outside has slashed the number of dominant low-post big men. Ray has noticed the trend and feels numerous players try to play one position lower than they need to be. He isn't teaching Ware to do that, and he likes Ware doesn't tend to stray too far from his strengths.
"Gavin is such a throwback and embraces his style of play," Ray said.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said post players in the United States aren't getting the instruction they need at lower levels to help them learn the skills they need to exploit their size.
"Kids, whether they were guards, forwards or centers, would all go to basketball camps and learn how to post up and learn Kevin McHale moves at the low block," Martin said. "I use Lebron James as a example all the time because beyond his athleticism when he won his first championship, it was because he finally took his 260-pound butt into the post and dominated people trying to guard him down there, too."
Despite a dearth of true low-post players, some coaches -- even some in the SEC -- will rely on the old-school ways of having a center clog the lane, block shots, score near the basket, and make penetrators think twice about attacking the rim.
"I hope that kind of instruction and that type of player always exists, and I think it will," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We emphasize at Tennessee being able to physically get points in the paint and being able to physically dominate at the low block. With the new officiating rules, it's impossible to stop somebody at the block if they know what they're doing with the basketball."
The SEC may have an edge on other conferences this season. Two of the media's First-Team All-SEC selections -- LSU's Johnny O'Bryant and Florida's Patric Young -- are back-to-the-basket forwards who very often don't stretch defenses beyond 15 feet.
"I'm the wrong guy to ask about centers being around the perimeter because I don't ask but demand my guys stay around the rim," said Martin, who is entering his second season with the Gamecocks. "This game is won at the rim, and it's hard to score if your bigs don't want to be in the paint. As a coach, if a kid fights who he is and fights doing something that will make him the best player available, I can't be around that type of attitude."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.