College basketball: FGCU's Varidel not sitting still with new role

David Albers/Staff 
 — FGCU guard Christophe Varidel drives against Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon in the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, in Durham, N.C. Duke defeated FGCU, 88-67.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News

David Albers/Staff — FGCU guard Christophe Varidel drives against Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon in the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, in Durham, N.C. Duke defeated FGCU, 88-67.

ESTERO — To better understand the talent second-year men's basketball coach Andy Enfield has recruited to Florida Gulf Coast University, look down the bench.

There sits Christophe Varidel.

Two seasons ago, with a different coach, the junior guard often started for the Eagles. He was one of the few bright spots.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Varidel earned a spot on the conference's all-freshman team after starting 20 of 30 games, averaging 11.5 points and ranking second in the A-Sun with 2.6 3-point makes per game.

Then came Enfield and his first recruits and Varidel's new position: role player.

"I give Christophe a lot of credit because he's had to adjust to a sixth-man role where he's coming off the bench," Enfield said. "It's a difficult adjustment and he's handled it very well. He knows how valuable he is to our program and to our team.

"And when he plays well, we almost never lose."

As a sophomore, Varidel played in all 32 games but started only six. He averaged 9.2 points in 21.5 minutes. This season, with senior Sherwood Brown and sophomore Bernard Thompson off to all-conference paces as off-guards, Varidel's minutes have fallen to 18.3 and his scoring has dipped to 7.1. But thanks to recent flurries, his 3-point percentage has risen from less than 30 to 37.8 percent.

After Enfield's hire, several players from Dave Balza's roster left the team. Rumor had it that Varidel, a native of Versoix, Switzerland, would be next. He returned home, where he's considered big and where he said the level of play "is really bad," only fueling speculation. On his return, Varidel shot down any thoughts of transferring or quitting and he continues to play an important, yet lesser, role for the Eagles.

"He's been a part of our rotation for two years now, and he's very valuable to us," said Enfield, a Florida State assistant the five seasons before taking over at FGCU. "We expect him to keep improving, and he's got to give us that every night."

When he comes off the bench — as he has done in all but Tuesday night's home rout of NAIA program Southeastern — for FGCU (8-4), Varidel usually spells Thompson.

"Sometimes I don't have good games," said Varidel in the still-thick Swiss accent. "Bernard's a good player, and I need to back him up when he doesn't do well."

Varidel took foes, especially A-Sun ones, by surprise as a freshman. The word has long been out though, as the yelling of "Shooter!" every time he catches the ball illustrates.

Even Duke Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski singled Varidel out after then-No. 9 Duke's 88-67 home win against the Eagles on Nov. 18, taking pride that the Blue Devils had covered him so closely that "No. 5" was able to squeeze off just two 3-pointers (he made one en route to seven points in 17 minutes).

In the 2010-2011 season, his 78 3-pointers were the fifth-most by a freshman in all of Division I. Seventeen times he made three or more treys in a game.

"They know about me," Varidel said. "They know I'm going to shoot. So they get really close to me when I have the ball. I know it. I have more experience with that. I try to go in the lane a little bit more. I know my shot's going to come around."

Varidel's strongest games this season have been against lesser foes. In the Dec. 13 76-73 home win against Florida International, Varidel scored a season-high 18 points, mostly by making 4 of 6 first-half 3-point attempts. His two free throws with five seconds left were the winning margin. He also had 17 points in a home rout of NAIA program Ave Maria.

"Against bigger and stronger teams, high-majors, it's hard because I'm slower than everybody and I don't jump that high," Varidel said. "So when we play against teams my size, it's really easy for me because I think I have more ability than other players and I have good technique and I'm the same size."

Enfield, himself a smallish sharpshooter at Johns Hopkins, nodded.

"You see it in football and basketball, the difference between the high-majors and mid-majors are usually size and athleticism," Enfield said. "Christophe is as skilled as anyone that we play against. He shoots the ball at a high level. He's a good ballhandler and passer. But when someone is guarding you who are 3- or 4-inches taller than you and much quicker, it's difficult to get a shot off."

So the Eagles have emphasized with Varidal — a ridiculously hard worker, excellent defender and strong rebounder for his size — to attack the lane more and look for openings.

"Christophe is a huge part of our offense," Enfield said. "He's such a good shooter, but he can also put the ball on the floor now. And he gets his teammates involved. Really proud of him for his development of his game. We need Christophe to perform at a high level for us to be a great team."

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