Stewart, Varnado Primed For Senior Night

Well, yes, there obviously is the much larger goal of winning the game. Still Jarvis Varnado claims he will have another tough task prior to tip-off of Senior Night at Mississippi State. "My job Saturday is to keep this guy from crying!" he grins, glancing at classmate Barry Stewart.

That might be something even the King of Swat can't stop of course. For that matter even Varnado's legendarily-stoic face will probably show a few glints too when this tag-team of record-setting Bulldogs take their official final bows at Humphrey Coliseum. The Senior Night ceremonies are to precede Mississippi State's 5:00 meeting with Tennessee to conclude this regular schedule.

"It's going to be emotions everywhere," agrees Stewart.

These Senior events, whether day or night, always offer emotions for participants and supporters alike. This edition stands to be somewhat special though. Even if the upper-class of 2010 is small in number it is pretty unprecedented in numbers. When guard Stewart and center Varnado depart the Hump they will leave huge imprints on the Bulldog basketball record book.

Varnado is now the all-time NCAA champion in his unique craft of blocking shots. He was expected to win this record from the spring '09 day he announced there would be a senior season at Mississippi State of course. Still when Varnado surpassed the 535 blocks of the rather obscure Wojiech Mydra (Louisiana-Monroe 2002) a week ago it was a milestone worthy of celebration…including special tee-shirts for that occasion and now public consumption.

His swat-tally now stands at 540 after getting three at Auburn on Wednesday night. In fact his pace has slowed with just four blocks in the two games since setting the standard. This isn't much of an issue for the big Dog though; even recognition as SEC Player of the Week for setting NCAA history has been shrugged-off as effortlessly as Varnado bats away a lax layup try.

"We got those records out of the way so we can focus on the games and getting to the tournament," Varnado said. More on that in a moment. Meanwhile with every game Varnado keeps advancing up MSU career-statistical charts. He is now the #12-leading scorer in program history with 1,313 points, and the #3 rebounder at 1,050 boards with an outside chance of catching #2 Rickey Brown (1,092 1977-80).

For his part Stewart has written his name at the top of some other lists. On the night his classmate set the blocked shots standard, Stewart became the most prolific three-point scorer to wear a Bulldog uniform. He broke a tie with the legendary Daryl ‘Super D' Wilson (1994-96) at 258 made-treys that night. Going into his homecourt finale Stewart has hit 268 longballs; he already owned the attempts record which now stands at 741. And Stewart is well-ahead of Varnado on the scoring list. With 1,529 points he stands in 8th place and is coming up on former teammate Jamont Gordon (1,558 2006-08) for the seventh slot.

It is not a coincidence that Varnado and Stewart share one MSU standard: they have played in the most games ever for a Bulldog at 135 each and counting. And while Varnado has started the most MSU games in history at 113, Stewart—who got his 100th tipoff Wednesday night—is alone among Bulldogs of all eras in how long he has spent on a court. The only MSU player ever with 4,000 career minutes he is now at 4,232. And counting of course.

As impressive as the sheer individual numbers are…and are they ever…the bigger story is the impact this tandem has had on Bulldog basketball together. And, that this is a partnership which began well before either set foot on the Starkville camps. Back in their Tennessee hometowns to be specific. "It started out in AAU ball playing with each other," recalls Stewart, a Shelbyville native and product of Central High. Varnado hails originally from Brownsville and played at Haywood HS.

"Then after high school we played in the East-West (All Star) Game. And the East kicked the West's butt," Stewart can't resist reminding. "He remembers! We had some words then!"

Varnado gave his word and signed his name with Mississippi State in the fall 2006 signing week. Though he had big prep stats and stood 6-9 even then, lack of muscle and perceived offensive skills made him something of a ‘project' pick by the Bulldog staff. Stansbury, fortunately, was willing to invest a scholarship in height and length that has paid off beyond all expectations. But if Varnado's recruitment did not register on many SEC radars at the time, he was high-profile compared to Stewart. It took plenty of pleading, even nagging, by a summer ball coach to convince Stansbury the skinny who'd been overshadowed by bigger names on the club team was worth signing.

Safe to say the record, and records, prove their individual and combined worth. Yet the best twist is that this has been a true team since day-one at Hurst Hall. "We got here, we're in the dorm and basically together every minute of the day," Stewart says. "That really grew us closer together. And our friendship has been close over the years."

Close enough to withstand the usual ups-and-downs of college life. Stewart claims that this senior year Varnado has disappeared a few times—"Never can find the guy any more!"—but on the whole they are still a team off the court. Except, that is, when they and two other teammate/roommates get some strange discussion going at the house.

"We might debate things," said Stewart without offering examples. "Usually it's me and Riley (Benock) on him and Twany (Beckham). It gets kind of loud down there!" Alright, who usually comes out better in such debates? "Of course, me and Twany win!" Varnado says, drawing immediate protests from Stewart to the negatory.

The on-court partnership has been pretty tight as well, working opposite ends of the Bulldog gameplan. And was anyone really surprised in retrospect both made history on the same evening? "To be able to break a record together, it was amazing," Stewart said. Yet as Varnado noted, getting the records over with and out of the way is welcome because there is much bigger team business left to take care of. The Senior Class of '10 does not want to end their combined careers in anything less than a third NCAA Tournament appearance.

"We're just trying to win a ball game," Varnado said. "We don't care about who is talking about us, we're just trying to win and get to the tournament. That's our main focus." Which is one of the potential issues with Senior Night emotions, too, as it might briefly distract from the main task. Fortunately the schedule makers have given these two elder Dogs some help with the opposition. There will be no problem turning attention to playing Tennessee.

"It's going to be good playing our home state for Senior Night," said Varnado. "You always get up for your home state, you've got something to prove. But we know we've got something else as well, trying to win the overall West and getting a good seed and get into the tournament."

Which means Stewart will get any tears wiped-away in time for tipoff. "I'm going to be hyped for the game. And it would be a good win for us to show the committee."

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