BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Mississippi State men”s basketball coach Rick Stansbury preaches defending and rebounding to his team.
But he has yet to run a shot-blocking drill in practice.
Stansbury discovered early Jarvis Varnado didn”t need it. He already had that skill.
Varnado, who could set the NCAA all-time record for blocked shots in a career before the end of his senior season at MSU, has been rejecting shots since his high school days at Haywood High School in Brownsville, Tenn., so it was nothing new to him.
With 142 more blocks, Varnado could pass the NCAA mark held by former Louisiana-Monroe player Wojciech Mydra.
Stansbury said Varnado”s feat, when it happens, will be “an incredible story.”
“He has a chance to do something no one else has done,” Stansbury said. “You think about the Bill Russells, Wilt Chamberlains and Shaquille O”Neals, all the great shot blockers that have played this game, and he has the potential to be the best ever (in college). He deserves all of the credit he gets.”
It was fitting Stansbury brought up Russell at Southeastern Conference Media Day on Thursday because Varnado picked up pointers by watching the NBA Hall of Famer on television.
“I love watching basketball,” Varnado said. “I turn on ESPN Classic and some of (Russell”s) games would be on. I would watch how he defends and gets down the floor quickly.”
The key to blocking shots for Varnado is reading shot fakes and playing good position defense.
As an assistant coach, Stansbury watched former Bulldog Erick Dampier (1994-96) block his share of shots.
The 6-foot-11, 275-pound Dampier used his build to dominate the glass, but Stansbury said Varnado is different.
“Jarvis impacts the defense better and is a better shot blocker,” Stansbury said. “He”s so quick off his feet and he recoils quickly. He can really move.”
Varnado gets satisfaction from blocking a shot and keeping it in bounds. On most occasions, his teammates will take the blocked shot and run the fastbreak for an easy basket on the other end of the floor.
LSU senior forward Tasmin Mitchell said a scorer has to approach Varnado in the paint in different ways.
He has a plan of how to attack Varnado, but has decided to keep it a secret until the Tigers play the Bulldogs on Jan. 30 and Feb. 20, 2010.
“I”m not going to tell all my tactics, but you just can”t throw a shot up there on him because he”s going to block it,” Mitchell said.
Varnado rejected Kentucky”s Patrick Patterson several times two years ago. Patterson, a junior center, said Varnado”s ability to block shots can throw a player off his game.
In the post, Patterson believes the best thing to do against Varnado is to establish position before he does, put a shoulder into his chest, make him step back, and jump into him.
Alabama senior guard Mikhail Torrance said there”s no way to dodge a shot blocker like Varnado, so the best strategy is to go right at him.
Tennessee senior forward Tyler Smith said sometimes all a player can do against Varnado is “hope he fouls you,” which leads Auburn senior forward Lucas Hargrove to “pray (the official) blows the whistle.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said if there”s a better shot blocker in the country than Varnado, he wants to see him. While he was at Memphis, Calipari saw Varnado as a sophomore in the NCAA tournament (2008).
Since then, Calipari said Varnado has made strides on the offensive end.
“If you don”t get a body on him, probably the next thing you”re going to hear is him dunking over the top of your head,” Calipari said.
Varnado, who increased his scoring production from 7.9 points per game as a sophomore to 12.9 points per outing as a junior, said it would be an “extreme honor” to get into the record book for blocked shots in a career, but he insists it”s not his focus.
“I think we”ve got a good team and we”re trying to win games,” Varnado said. “We have a chance to compete for an SEC title as well as an NCAA title.”
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