Northwestern State guard Gary Stewart (44) dribbles past Louisina Tech forward Chris Anderson during their game Dec. 4 in Natchitoches, La. Stewart, a former Vidalia High School standout, said the Demons’ coaching staff is looking to him for leadership. (Photo courtesy of Northwestern State)

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Demons’ Stewart trying to step up on, off court

Published 12:01am Wednesday, January 2, 2013

NATCHITOCHES, La. — Much is expected of Gary Stewart by the Northwestern State coaching staff, and Stewart is learning to accept those responsibilities.

The former Vidalia High School basketball standout is currently a junior for the Demons. Added responsibilities comes with being an upperclassman, Stewart said, and he admitted things haven’t always been easy so far this season.

“The coaches have mainly been telling me to be a leader on the court and off the court, and that’s really been my main struggle,” Stewart said. “I’m just learning to accept the role. Early in the season, I was letting it get to me, but now it’s easier.”

Stewart, who is averaging 5.7 points per game and 2.4 rebounds per game so far this season, said it’s especially difficult when the coaches single him out in practice.

“Most of the time the coaches look to me whenever the team does something wrong, and they’ll come down on me,” Stewart said. “I’m really one of the ones that can handle it. Everyone can’t handle certain things.”

Even though it’s tough taking the heat from the coaches, Stewart said part of being a leader is staying positive no matter what.

“You can’t bring anyone down,” Stewart said. “If you do, they’ll follow, because they’re looking at you to be a leader. In tough times, you just have to stay up.”

Stewart said Northwestern State has seen an influx of young talent this season, and keeping his starting job as a guard has also been tough at times.

“With the new talent coming in, the competition is there, and I just have to maintain and show the coaches I’m still a good player,” Stewart said.

In November, the Demons faced a string of tough opponents in LSU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Northwestern State lost all three — 102-95 to LSU, 78-65 to Texas A&M and 69-65 to Oklahoma — but Stewart said he enjoyed the competition.

“The feeling was great, knowing that the opportunity had been given to us to play bigger schools,” Stewart said. “I feel like we should have won versus LSU. Texas A&M we let slip away, and we were right there with Oklahoma, too. It feels good to know we’re playing well against the bigger schools and having a fighting chance. It shows people we can’t be taken lightly.”

In addition to keeping his starting job, Stewart said making the NCAA tournament is also atop his list of goals.

“It would feel great just to know my team did it,” Stewart said. “We were kind of looked over this year in the preseason judgments from different coaches because we lost some key players (from last year). If we proved we were a really good team and made it, that would be something special, because we have the talent to do it.”

Stewart spent time at home during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but otherwise hasn’t been able to make it to Vidalia much.

“I can’t really get used to not being home, but it’s not as challenging as it was my first year,” Stewart said. “I know what to expect and, as a college athlete, I chose to do this, but sometimes I really miss home.”

Stewart is the son of Sharon and Gary Stewart Sr.