October 8, 2013 9:43:15 PM
STARKVILLE -- Rick Ray says his front court depth hasn't changed from last year and this is not something he hoped for.
With last week's dismissal of senior Wendell Lewis due to conduct detrimental to the team, the only other experienced player at center is Gavin Ware, a Southeastern Conference all-conference freshman team selection, heading into the 2013-14 season. The Bulldogs, who finished 13th in the league last year, will have only three forwards to mix in between two starting front court spots.
"It's the same (situation) as last year," Ware said. "We just have to work with what we got. It's nothing new."
Besides Ware, the only other forward options are seniors Colin Borchert and Roquez Johnson. In a year where he expected to come off the bench and adapt to being in a new conditioning program, Ware averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as a freshman.
"I think Colin was arguably our best player down the stretch," Ray said. "I believe in the last ten games he averaged about 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. With junior college kids it takes them about a semester to figure out where their lot is on the team. I think Colin started to figure that out and took advantage of it."
Ware, a four-star recruit from Starkville High School, dropped 20 pounds since coming to campus last summer and now weighs close to 290 pounds. Ray said consistently he was impressed with the work ethic of the 6-foot-8 post presence that he has called a "throwback post player".
"It's real simple, as his weight decreased, he's looked better on the court," Ray said last summer. "As the weight has dropped off, his performance has gone up. The biggest thing so far is Gavin has been a willing listener and done everything we've asked of him."
Ware heard the rumors and talk that he wouldn't be able to handle the conditioning of playing close to 30 minutes at the college level. The sophomore has responded by getting himself at a trim 260-270 pound range before October workouts began.
"The number one thing I've been working on this offseason is my conditioning," Ware said last week. "Last season, there was speculation that Gavin had to play himself into shape, so this season I wanted to come into the year ready to give my team 100 percent every 40 minutes."
Without the presence of Lewis to the front court depth, the coaching staff has added importance in staying healthy and limiting fouls in the paint.
"In most situations, teams typically have three guys manning those two spots," Ray said last week. "Our problem would be either if those guys get injured or if they get into foul trouble. That's when you get concerned with what's behind them. Now, if those guys stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble, then I have every confidence those three guys can man those two spots."
The one added element for Ware's development will not be seen by MSU fans until the beginning of next season.
The NCAA Eligibility ruled in August that 6-foot-11 center Fallou Ndoye as a partial qualifier after completing the initial-eligibility waiver.
Ndoye, who starred at the nationally-recognized Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., isn't eligible to compete until the 2014-15 campaign but is allowed to receive his athletic scholarship for MSU and participate in all practices and workouts this year as a redshirt player. Ndoye's presence during the 2013-14 season will be vital for Ware to see a consistent big body in every practice to give the Starkville High product a chance to work on his post fundamentals.
"Fallou, besides (former Purdue star forward) JaJuan Johnson, of guys that I have coached in my tenure, he is the fastest guy (big man) I have ever seen and then with the endurance," Ray said. "So Fallou is going to be a good player. I think Fallou will be a guy eventually at 240 pounds is a guy that develops in our program. So when he hits the floor as the first time as a freshman, he will be able to make a huge impact for us."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.