June 2, 2010 12:29:00 PM
Former Mississippi State basketball player Jarvis Varnado has heard all the detractors who''ve analyzed his game.
Some say he''s too skinny. Others believe his limited offensive skills will stunt his pro potential.
Then there are skeptics who believe Varnado''s transition to playing power forward and his lack of bulk will limit his shot-blocking ability in the NBA.
Pro prospects are served humble pie once they enter the draft process and become potential investments. The goal for most is to crack the first round and receive a guaranteed contract.
According to ESPN.com and draftexpress.net, Varnado is ranked among the top 40 prospects in this year''s draft.
Varnado, the NCAA''s all-time leading shot blocker, left Mississippi State as one of the Southeastern Conference''s greats, but "SWAT" faces a battle to crack the first round of the NBA Draft on June 24.
The flux of underclassmen and foreign players creates a logjam of players hoping to make the first round, and Varnado is one of a handful of domestic second-tier big men on NBA draft boards.
Having gone through the draft feedback process after his junior season, Varnado knew what he had to improve when he returned to Mississippi State for his senior season.
That said, he doesn''t feel slighted by other forwards and centers touted as lottery picks. Varnado remembers getting into constant foul trouble as a freshman. He recalls having to add to his 195-pound frame to compete in the SEC.
He''s proven he can make the necessary adjustments to fit a team''s scheme or to adapt to a league, but switching to power forward in the NBA will be his biggest challenge yet.
"I have to learn the game all over again," Varnado said Tuesday. "I''m starting from square one, so it''s going to be tough. I''ve got to take in all the knowledge I can, and I''m sure whatever team I go to, the coaches will help me out in that transition."
Once the Bulldogs ended their season with an NIT loss to North Carolina, Varnado moved to California to prepare for the workout trail that precedes draft day.
Along with former Tulsa center Jerome Jordan, a projected early second round pick, Varnado has used his Los Angeles camp to work on his mid-range jump shot and post moves. He''s currently working with renowned basketball trainer Joe Abunnaser, whose clients include Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups.
The Los Angeles experience has the former Bulldog in "the best shape of his life," though he weighed in at a lean 210 pounds at the NBA combine -- 20 pounds less than his listed weight at MSU last season.
And despite doing just three bench reps at the combine, Varnado insists his fitness level is at 100 percent -- a must for the trail of visits.
"NBA is a different shape than college," Varnado said. "You''ve got to be in good shape to play in the NBA, which is a lot of stopping and going. It''s all about changing speed. College is more about one speed and you have to be ready for that."
As for the weight he''ll need to gain in the NBA, Varnado isn''t worried about it.
"Get a good chef to come in and cook for me," Varnado told reporters following a recent workout.
As of Tuesday, Varnado had worked out for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and Washington Wizards. He has workouts and visits with the Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings lined up.
Varnado''s workouts have consisted of three-on-three drills, conditioning and full-court drills. But of all the offensive improvement he''s hoped to show coaches and general managers, Varnado admits his draft stock is weighted by his defensive ability.
"I''m working hard on my jump shot and it''s improving throughout the day," Varnado said, "But what''s going to get me on the court is being an energy guy, playing defense, blocking shots and running the floor. I can''t stop playing defense, so my offense, which I came out here to work on, will be a plus to whatever team drafts me."