Varnado: Learning to Make Adjustments

Standing at 6-foot-9 and a slender 195 pounds, Mississippi State freshman Jarvis Varnado knew he would face mismatches during his initial college campaign. The power forward knew he would have to make up for the strength factor in other ways. And it didn't take him long to figure out how to combat his lack of bulk in the post. That and some friendly encouraging by his head coach Rick Stansbury.

"There's a lot of size down there in the post," said Varnado. "But I have to use my quickness. I'm not the biggest man in the world so I have to use my quickness and Coach stays on me hard about using that quickness in the post."

In the early season, Varnado has averaged almost 12 minutes a game, helping spell the likes of All-SEC forward Charles Rhodes and post player Piotr Stelmach on occasions. He's averaged 4.3 points and 3.3 boards during his two weeks of college action.

But none of it has surprised Varnado.

"Coming in, I felt I could play right away," said Varnado. "And it's a lot what I expected. I'm just out here playing and trying to win games.

"I'm happy with my minutes right now. I mean, we're winning and I'm just happy with everything right now. We have a talented team that the sky is the limit for us. Most of us are freshmen and sophomores and I'm just happy to be here and a part of this."

But that doesn't mean Varnado hasn't undergone his share of adjustments.

During his high school days at Haywood High School in Brownsville, Tenn., Varnado used his quickness and his height to dominate foes. Varnado averaged 13.1 points, 10.1 boards and 7.1 blocks a game as a senior en route to all-state honors.

For his breakout senior year at Haywood High School, Vernado quickly became a hot prospect, ranking as the 51st best recruit in the nation and 14th best power forward prospect, according to Scout.com.

But at this level, facing other power forwards has gotten Varnado's attention.

"Playing against taller players every night," responded Varnado when asked what his toughest adjustment would be this year. "You are going to have a 6-9, 6-10 or bigger on the floor every night and sometimes all three guys are that big in the post. I have to adjust to that and that's a big step from high school.

"I know everyone talks about how much bigger players are at this level and that's so true. In high school, you had tall players but there was only one or two. At this level, everyone is tall, even the guards. So you have to find ways to adjust and play your game."

Of course, Varnado goes against 6-8 Rhodes and 6-foot-9 Vernon Goodridge every day in practice, not to mention the 6-foot-9 and 245-pound Brian Johnson who is sitting out after transferring from Louisville.

While Varnado takes his turns guarding the likes of Rhodes and company, he's also taking notes with those normal freshmen growing pains.

"Man, they know so much and are so strong," said Varnado of Rhodes, Goodridge, Stelmach and Johnson. "When I'm in practice, I really watch what they are doing, how they score, how they defend and how they defend other guys. Right now, I am in a learning stage and what two good guys to learn from."

Varnado and the other three members of State's Class of 2006 have grabbed a few headlines already in the still-infant basketball campaign.

Along with Varnado, guards Barry Stewart and Ben Hansbrough have seen early playing time and played major roles in Bulldog victories.

But they are still a work in progress, each finding his individual role on the Bulldogs' squad. And like Varnado pointed to earlier, the Maroon and White rookies get a lot of help and advice from the upperclassmen, which on this young Bulldog team happen to be sophomores of all things.

"We are young but guys like Jamont, Reg and Richard, they've been through this before," said Varnado. "So they are teaching us how to defend, how to play and how to keep your body healthy and all that. I wouldn't say we are young because we so much more experienced than past year. I guess you could call them experienced sophomores who've been here before. And who better to learn from?"

Varnado fully understands the big picture. He knows that the SEC competition is less than two months away.

But he's already seen how flexible the Bulldogs can be on both ends of the floor.

But as he's heard countless times before from his head coach, he realizes what aspect has to be present in order for the Bulldogs to return to the NCAA Tournament.

"We knew we would have some tough games early in the season," said Varnado. "Our defense has stepped up lately and our offense will come around, too. But I think in the long run, it's going to be our defense that wins a lot of games.

"And with this team, it's not just one thing we have to do well. If our shots are not falling, then we have to step up the defense. And if our shots are falling then we still have to step up our defense."

As Varnado and the Bulldogs dive deeper into a rugged, non-conference schedule, State's lone freshman post player is trying to tune up his game for the big picture.

He doesn't hesitate when asked what the goals are this year.

"I want for myself and the team to win the SEC," said Varnado. "This schedule will help prepare us for the SEC and Coach did a good job of scheduling these games to help us get better against good competition. We have to face the Floridas, the LSUs, the Tennessees and the Alabamas. So this is getting us ready for those guys."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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