Winston Varnado’s little boy will be playing with the big boys now.
When Jarvis Varnado was drafted by the Miami Heat late Thursday night, his dad thought back to all those years coaching him at home and, for one season, at Haywood High School in Brownsville, Tenn.
“My little boy is now a man in the NBA,” Winston said above the clamor at the Doubletree Inn in Jackson, Tenn. Family and friends had gathered to watch and wait … and wait … and wait, until finally Miami took the former Mississippi State standout in the second round, the 41st selection overall in the 60-pick draft.
Varnado had been projected to go anywhere from the late first round to the middle of the second.
The NCAA’s all-time blocked shots leader (564), who also goes by “Swat,” said his overriding emotion was relief.
“This is what I’ve been dreaming for my whole life,” he said. “I’m trying to make the best out of every opportunity I get.”
So, what kind of opportunity will the 6-foot-9, 210-pound Varnado get in Miami? After playing center at MSU, he’ll probably be a power forward but will need to beef up in order to be effective.
He put on several pounds this past year but lost it all.
“He’s a good kid, weakside defender, needs to get a little stronger and improve that low base so he doesn’t get knocked off his spot,” analyst Jay Bilas said on ESPN’s telecast.
Miami begins NBA Summer League play in Las Vegas on July 11. After that, the Heat must decide how many of their four draft picks to keep for next season and which ones to send overseas for further development.
All of the Heat’s selections came in the second round, with the others being Texas center Dexter Pittman and West Virginia forward Da’Sean Butler.
Miami is seeking more salary cap room, but second-round picks don’t count against the cap until they actually sign.
“We feel like we drafted three first-round picks in the second round,” team president Pat Riley told the Miami Herald. “We had all three of those guys in the first round. … I love Jarvis Varnado.”
Varnado spoke briefly with Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra on Thursday night, but he said he’s not yet discussed money or even his role on the team.
“I’m just gonna do what I do best – rebound, block shots, run the floor and be their energy guy,” Varnado said.
At Haywood, Varnado was a top-notch defender but could score it, too. He averaged 13.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.1 blocks as a senior, when he was coached by Winston.
When he joined the Bulldogs, he was just 190 pounds. While he started 13 games as a freshman and was a full-time starter as a sophomore, Varnado was still raw offensively and often got in foul trouble.
He polished up both areas, and as a senior he averaged team highs in scoring (13.8), rebounding (10.3) and of course, blocks (4.7), and he fouled out just twice. He won a third consecutive SEC Defensive Player of the Year award.
He did all that despite a shortage in the post, due to Renardo Sidney’s eligibility battle and an injury to Elgin Bailey.
Varnado returned after declaring for the draft last year and then withdrawing. Because of MSU’s scholarship situation at the time, Varnado agreed to pay his own way for the 2009-10 school year, prompting many to tab him the nation’s best walk-on player.
After the Bulldogs’ season ended in the second round of the NIT, Varnado quit school and went to Los Angeles to work with noted basketball tutor Joe Abunassar.
He returned to Mississippi long enough to accept his second Bailey Howell Trophy, which goes to the state’s best men’s college basketball player and is named after another accomplished MSU big man.
Varnado left his name all over the MSU record books, finishing his career 13th all-time in scoring (1,403 points), second in rebounding (1,096) and first in games started (119).
“He’s going to go out there and work his butt off and prove that he can play,” Winston said. “And that’s all he’s got to do. He can have a healthy 10 years in the league, and that’d be great.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal