By John Pitts
Editor’s note: A portion of this story, which published in the Friday Daily Journal, did not appear due to a production error. It’s reprinted here in its entirety.
By Brad Locke
At Mississippi State, Jarvis Varnado’s role was clearly defined: Play defense, block shots, and be an adequate low-post scorer.
As he prepares for the June 24 NBA Draft, Varnado’s been trying to conform his game to a style that will make his transition to the pros as seamless as possible.
The 6-foot-9 Varnado was a pivot for MSU and finished as the NCAA’s career leader in blocks with 564. In the NBA, he’ll play the power forward spot, and he’ll need to utilize his preternatural ability for swatting shots.
“I think it can translate, coming over and helping out weakside,” he said Monday. “That’s where I got most of my blocks anyway, on the guards getting beat and just cleaning up their mistakes.”
Jay Bilas, an ESPN basketball analyst and former Duke player, said Varnado can make an impact defensively.
“In the games I watched, I thought he did a really good job over the course of his career of learning how to keep his feet until the offensive player left the floor,” Bilas said. “He’s not a gifted offensive player; that’s not where he’s going to make his mark in the NBA.”
Varnado is aware that adjustments must be made, and he’s working on his offensive game, specifically his outside shot, which he has said is a good one – he just never needed to use it at MSU.
He’s been in Los Angeles working with noted basketball tutor Joe Abunassar.
Varnado has also worked out for several NBA teams: Detroit, Miami, Minnesota, New York, San Antonio and Washington.
More workouts are lined up, with Boston, Milwaukee and Toronto. Varnado said he’s especially looking forward to working out for the Celtics.
“I like Boston and what they’re about, and their defense, the team defense they do,” he said.
Varnado participated in an invitation-only combine in Chicago last month and talked with several teams then.
Teams have been putting Varnado through a lot of three-on-three and one-on-one drills, full-court and half-court sets, and pick-and-roll plays. What he’s discovered – or rather, had reaffirmed after flirting with the draft last year – is the pace of the pro game is different from the college one.
“Learning the NBA game, there’s a lot of stopping and going, and as far as college is straight ahead,” Varnado said. “The NBA is just a lot of change of direction. I’m preparing well for it, though.”
He averaged 13.8 points and 10.8 rebounds as a senior, both career-high numbers.
A more important number is Varnado’s weight, which is back down to around 210 pounds. Bulk might never come to him.
“He’s not a guy that’s going to win a lot of battles for position down low,” Bilas said. “That’s not his strength. He’s got to use his quickness, and as a weakside shot blocker he’s going to have some value.”
So where will Varnado go in the draft? The general thought is early second round, and draftexpress.net has him going 40th overall to Indiana. But Chad Ford of ESPN.com has Varnado going with the final pick of the first round to Washington, via Cleveland.
“He’s kind of a poor man’s (Dikembe) Mutombo,” said ESPN analyst Rich Zvosec, a former college coach. “Obviously he’s not quite as tall, but I think (he’s) long, lanky, a high-energy type guy. I think depending on picks, who’s looking for what, I think he’s got a chance to go pretty high.”
Until draft day comes, Varnado will keep toiling in L.A. while harboring high hopes.
“I do what I do best, just bring that energy to the floor, defending and then getting out in the open court, running the floor, finishing around the basket with dunks,” Varnado said. “I think I’ll fit in real well.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.