Big Story for the Big Guy

by

Jarvis Varnado does one thing particularly well for Mississippi State: block shots. There is more to his game than that – he leads the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding – but his bread-and-butter is rejecting shots. The 6-foot-9 junior leads the nation (5.5 per game) and holds the school record for career swats. If Varnado, a.k.a. “Swat,” keeps up his 2008-09 pace, he will surpass the NCAA career blocks record next season (owned by Wojciech Mydra of UL-Monroe, 535).

In today’s Journal, I take an in-depth look at Varnado’s special skill, and it shows that there is more to blocking a shot than you might think. Might want to carve out a good chunk of time and grab a cup of coffee for my 2,300-word opus (which nearly gave my editor a heart attack). Even with everything that went into this story, there was plenty that had to be left out, such as what follows.

When Varnado first joined Jesus Patino‘s Haywood High program in Brownsville, Tenn., as a 6-foot-2 freshman, he didn’t think he was good enough to play for the Tomcats. “Coach, I don’t think I can play for you. You’ve got such great tradition,” Varnado said. Well, Varnado grew four inches taller by his sophomore year and started blocking shots, and Patino knew he had something.

Patino wanted to test Varnado, so he would put him through a drill involving two guards. Varnado would stand in front of the basket by himself and have to stop the first guard as he drove to the basket. Then the second guard would come from the other side. Over and over. “Jarvis, no matter what you do, I don’t care if you’re goaltending, you block every shot,” Patino told him.

Varnado’s development was aided greatly by his willingness to work and learn. “What I like about him is he’s a sponge,” Patino said. “He was always hungry.” His humility and hunger for improvement proved a potent combination as he became a dominant force at Haywood. During one game his sophomore year, Varnado had 13 blocks. “That’s when I knew that I was a good shot blocker,” he said.

This season, Varnado has been a presence on the offensive end as well, averaging 12.8 points per game heading into Saturday’s SEC opener at Arkansas (7 p.m., FSN). His father, Winston Varnado, now the boys coach at West Point, said Jarvis has always been able to score, he just hasn’t needed to. At Haywood, there were scorers aplenty. As for MSU, “He didn’t score because they had Charles (Rhodes) and Jamont (Gordon). If you need him to score, he’ll score. If you need him to play defense, he’ll play defense.”

Varnado is a unique big man in that he’s only 210 pounds, and he uses his head a lot. “I think every game he learns something about playing better against bigger people,” said MSU strength coach Richard Akins. Said Patino, “When you don’t have the physicality to bang, you’ve got to play smarter.”

For someone who is quiet and reserved, Varnado has developed a solid confidence, which augments his presence in the paint. A scary thought for opponents. “When you do something, and you’re the best in the league at it or the best in the country at it,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said, “that gives you a swagger about yourself and a confidence about yourself.”

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3 Responses to “Big Story for the Big Guy”

  1. imabulldog Says:

    I’ve read the Great Gatsby, The Chronicles of Narnia, all of Hemingway’s work, nothing compares to this…The Varnado Collection…a 2,300 word masterpiece…unbelievable…astounding…remarkable…incredible…

    Ok, I’m finished with breakfast and lunch now-man that was a long one

  2. Brad Locke Says:

    Thank you for sticking with it to the end. It is the longest single story I’ve ever written for a newspaper, and I’m kind of surprised it didn’t wind up longer. It was Bill Simmons-esque.

  3. darkcooger Says:

    Great story, Brad. Jarvis seems like he’s a great kid, on top of being an amazing defensive player. Can’t beat that!

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