With 4:28 remaining in the Alabama-Mississippi State game Wednesday night, Jarvis Varnado - the King of Swat - sent back the soup on a shot from Mikhail Torrance. It was his eighth block that night, his 143rd of the season and the 536th of his career. He's the new record-holder in the NCAA, passing Louisiana-Monroe's Wojciech Myrda, who set the record from 1998-02.
This season, Varnado probably won't eclipse the SEC-record 170 blocks he had last year, but he's still averaging 5.1 send-backs per game. He's the sure-fire 2010 Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, which would be a third straight season he's done it. And with a wingspan that has grown to 7'4", Varnado has likely improved his draft spot from last season.
The Dagger spoke with Varnado yesterday afternoon about his accomplishments.
"It was great to get it at home and I wanted to do it at home for the fans," Varnado said. "But I only had two blocks at halftime and I got on a hot streak and started blocking everything that came in the lane. Once it got to three more [to go] I knew I could go for the record."
The 21-year-old, who is currently paying to play with the team, said he got into a real defensive rhythm in the second half.
"Last night was a perfect example of that. I don't really see myself doing it, but last night I was in the zone I just came in the lane and just kept saying to myself, ‘Get in the lane and get another. Get another. Get another.'"
On Nov. 21 of this season Varnado became the SEC's all-time career blocks leader when he reached 413. You may have heard of the man who held the record until then. His name is Shaquille O'Neal. Varnado is nowhere close in recognition to what O'Neal is now - or even what O'Neal was in college. He said his lack of national recognition doesn't bother him.
"I try not to think too much about that. I know teams know about me and what I've done in the past, but I try not to let that affect me. I try to go out and win games."
Varnado is a Naismith Player of the Year mid-season finalist and has helped MSU to keeping SEC foes to less than 63 points per game and holding them to 37.4 from the field - fourth-best in the country. A big reason for that isn't just the blocks, but the shots that never get taken; the ones that are afterthoughts once a shooter gets into the air or begins driving into the lane.
"I count it as a ‘stop.' A lot of guys, when they see me they try to avoid the block and it allows me to go and get in transitions," Varnado said. "That helps our offense, ultimately."
Like many young players who win the DNA lottery, Varnado began playing basketball as a teenager thinking hard work wasn't a necessary factor in the winning equation. He was considerably taller and stronger than just about every kid he played against. He credited his junior high school coach with giving him perspective on why working hard means so much to players that want to succeed.
Varnado said the best shot-blocker he's ever gone against is Clemson's Trevor Booker. He hasn't had a chance to go against a lot of NBA-quality big men, and that was part of the reason why he chose to come back for his senior year at MSU.
"My body wasn't ready at the end of the season," Varnado said. "I wanted to get better, improve my game and I thought about it, prayed about it, and thought it was right to return for my senior year. I'm glad I made that decision."
The Bulldogs, still very much a bubble team, have had to play all season without highly touted prospect Renardo Sidney. It was Sidney's expected arrival on campus that triggered Varnado to give up his scholarship spot.
"Coach (Rick Stansbury) told me we had a chance to get Renardo Sidney, a good incoming freshman, and I told him to give him the scholarship because I'm always about the team and winning," Varnado said. "I was excited about it. I was just real excited because he was so talented coming out of high school. So since I came back for my senior year, I wanted to make sure we had enough scholarships for everyone."
But Sidney hit roadblock after roadblock. Many believe he'll now declare for the NBA Draft and never put on a Mississippi State uniform.
"He could've changed a lot of things for us, I think, and could score," Varnado said. "He's a big player on the defensive side as well. I'll say we probably would've won those close losses we had if he was with us."
Who knows how many wins this team would have without Varnado.