August 25, 2009 12:32:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Back from helping Team USA win the bronze medal in July at the World University Games, Mississippi State senior center Jarvis Varnado is ready to focus on the upcoming season.
Varnado is excited about what the Bulldogs can accomplish, especially with high-profiled signees like Renardo Sidney and John Riek.
"Those are great additions to our team," Varnado said. "It''s going to add to our depth.
"Last year, we made a good run and everybody came together. Kodi Augustus started playing well for us. Everybody is working hard so we can make that run in the NCAA tournament this year. We don''t try to get caught up in (expectations). The only thing we can control is ourselves and how hard we need to play and prepare to win games. We''re going to have a good team, but I''m trying hard to become a better leader and teach these younger guys how it''s done."
Even though the NCAA has yet to clear Sidney and Riek to play, Varnado said having them on campus has been good.
Varnado has gone against both in pickup games and calls them real good players. He was especially impressed with Riek, who didn''t play basketball last year due to a knee injury.
"He goes after every rebound and blocks every shot," Varnado said.
Varnado said he already has blocked one of Riek''s shots.
Varnado said he won''t worry if Sidney and Riek aren''t cleared
"We won''t be as big without those two guys, but our heart and desire to win will still be there," Varnado said.
Varnado enjoyed his time with Team USA in Belgrade, Serbia, and said the experience made him more humble.
After not playing many minutes, Varnado realized it''s important even more to work toward goals. He hopes to put some of what he learned to the test at MSU.
"Nothing is given to you," Varnado said. "When I did get in, I contributed, but it wasn''t about me, but about Team USA.
"It doesn''t matter how good you are, you''ve got to work hard. We''ve got a good team (at MSU) on paper, but that doesn''t mean anything. When the ball is up in the air, you''ve got to have the will to win."
Varnado said he dropped about eight or nine pounds in Serbia. He''s at 220 pounds and would like to get back to 225-230 pounds by the start of the season.
Varnado was surprised last week when team spokesman Greg Ellis informed him he was one of 50 players to make the initial watch list for the John Wooden Award.
"That''s what every college basketball player dreams of winning," Varnado said. "It''s an honor to just be a candidate."
The Wooden Award is given each year to the top college basketball player in the country.
Varnado declined to elaborate on his decision to give back the scholarship and to pay for his senior season.
His decision will allow MSU to fit 14 players in a 13-scholarship limit if Sidney and Riek are cleared.
"It''s just one of the decisions I made," Varnado said.
There also are plans for MSU to release a commercial that features Varnado in the next few days.