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The Celtics on Monday announced the signing of power forward/center Jarvis Varnado from the D-League. The 24-year-old made a name for himself in college as a stellar defender at Mississippi State, and holds the NCAA Division I record for most career blocked shots, with 564. Let’s take a look at his career so far and what we can expect from him in Boston.
During his four years with the Bulldogs, he averaged 4 blocks per game, and in his junior season broke Shaquille O’Neal’s Southeastern Conference record for blocks in a season. He led the nation in that category twice, was a three-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year and, in his senior season, was named the best defender in the country by both the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Collegeinsider.com. He was also the MVP of the 2009 SEC Tournament, which Mississippi State won, and First-Team All-SEC twice.
In the early stages of his professional career, however, he hasn’t found nearly as much success. He was selected by the Heat in the second round of the 2010 Draft, but never played a regular season game for Miami, instead spending two seasons with three teams in Israel and Italy. In six 2011-12 Eurocup Basketball games with Hapoel Jerusalem B.C., he averaged 8.3 points, 5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
This season, Varnado returned to the States. He was waived by the Heat, who had retained his rights, on October 26 and subsequently joined the D-League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce. In his 10 games with Sioux Falls (7-3), he has averaged a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds per game, and led the D-League with 3.9 blocks, ahead of Celtics prospect Fab Melo, who is second at 3.3 bpg.
The signing of Varnado makes it clear that the Celtics don’t believe Melo, who has yet to make his NBA debut, is ready for the big leagues. Most NBA teams didn’t think Varnado was ready either, which explains why a player who was a defensive star at the college level fell to number 41 in the Draft. However, the Celtics hope he can contribute off the bench and help shore up the struggling defense and improve the team’s rebounding totals.
Boston’s defense has suffered immensely when Kevin Garnett has been on the bench. The Celtics are allowing a very solid 88.9 points per 48 minutes with Garnett on the floor and a whopping 105.3 with him on the bench. In recent weeks, Doc Rivers has been tweaking the lineup in an effort to minimize the effects of having Garnett out, making changes such as starting Jason Collins to give Brandon Bass more minutes with the bench players, but these moves haven’t had the desired effect. Varnado, while unlikely to contribute many points, could help improve the second unit’s defensive numbers.