By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Jarvis Varnado has been toiling in Los Angeles, but he found time to accept another award Thursday night.
At the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the Mississippi State center won his second consecutive Howell Trophy as the state’s top male college basketball player.
The NCAA’s all-time blocks leader, who has been racking up postseason awards for his defense, swatted aside the competition, Ole Miss junior guard Chris Warren and Jackson State senior guard Garrison Johnson.
Varnado was one half of an MSU sweep, as senior guard Alexis Rack won the Gillom Trophy as the top female player. It was the first time either award was won in consecutive years by a single player.
The 6-foot-9 Varnado left L.A. at 7 a.m. Thursday to attend the ceremony. He’s been out there prepping for the upcoming NBA Draft.
Varnado entered his name last year but withdrew to return for his senior season. He led MSU to the SEC Western Division title and the second round of the NIT, averaging 13.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game.
“He led the nation in blocked shots, got the record, you’ve gotta give it to him,” Warren said.
MSU finished 24-12 and reached the NIT second round.
Varnado has been putting in at least eight or nine hours of work a day in L.A. He’s been working a lot on his outside shot, which he had in high school but kept under wraps at MSU, because it wasn’t needed.
“I know I’m not going to be playing the five, so that’s why I’ve been getting up shots, playing the four or maybe even a little three,” said Varnado, who signed with agent Kevin Bradbury of BDA Sports. “Just working towards trying to get my shot right. And who knows, I might be a starting three man in the NBA.”
Varnado said he’ll start working out for NBA teams in May.
“I’m more comfortable than I was last year about the process,” he said. “I know what I need to work on and improve on, and that’s what I’m doing while I’m in L.A.”
MSU head coach Rick Stansbury could not attend the ceremony due to a last-minute recruiting trip, but assistants Phil Cunningham and Robert Kirby were there.
Also on hand were the trophies’ namesakes, former MSU standout Bailey Howell and former Lady Rebel Peggy Gillom.
Warren, a 5-10 point guard, averaged 17.2 points and 3.5 assists per game and led Ole Miss to the NIT semifinals.
Johnson stepped in and eased the loss of top player Grant Maxey, averaging 18.1 points per game and winning the SWAC Player of the Year honor. JSU won the league’s regular season title and lost to MSU in the first round of the NIT.
Rack beat out Bianca Thomas of Ole Miss and Pauline Love of Southern Miss.
“Bianca and Pauline Love are great players, and I’m just honored to get it,” said Rack, who was selected by San Antonio in the WNBA Draft on Thursday.
Two of Rack’s teammates, Chanel Mokango and Armelie Lumanu, were also drafted.
Rack averaged 17.5 points and 4.7 assists per game, and she led MSU to its first ever Sweet 16 appearance this season.
“As you can see from the draft today, this team has been a team of several good players, and there’s others at home who are not seniors that really helped us be successful,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “But Alexis bought into continuing to work, and she grew as a player this year and helped us be successful.”
Thomas, a senior guard, averaged an SEC-leading 20.9 points per game for Ole Miss.
Love, a 6-foot senior forward, averaged 18.3 points and 12.8 boards per game for USM. She was a third-time nominee for the Gillom Trophy.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571