A.J. Ratliff - A Force on the Court
Feb. 1, 2007
A.J. Ratliff followed Indiana basketball long before he played for the Hoosiers. The 6-3, 188-pound junior guard attended high school at North Central in Indianapolis where he earned Indiana's prestigious Mr. Basketball Award in 2004. He became the 18th player in Hoosier basketball history to sign with the program under the state's Mr. Basketball title.
"I grew up an IU fan," Ratliff said. "It means a lot to be a state player and go to IU. It is important to the fans, my family and me. The fans are great here at Indiana."
Since his arrival at Indiana, Ratliff has seen his role on the court transform and has learned to embrace those changes.
"I've always been more of a defensive type of player, but my role has changed dramatically since my freshman and sophomore year," Ratliff said. "Now we don't have the high-scoring guards we did then. So, I have to score a lot more this year."
Slightly more than midway through the season, Ratliff has shot his way to being the fourth most effective scorer on the team with an average of 9.1 points per game. Ratliff follows only D.J. White, Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway in this category. Of the four Hoosiers, Ratliff is the only player who comes off the bench more often than he starts.
"I think coming off the bench is better for me," Ratliff said. "I can be that spark if we're down. I accept my role as someone who comes in and scores. If D.J.'s not scoring or Rod's not scoring, I take it upon myself to help score some points."
Ratliff missed the first three games of the 2005-06 season due to a thumb injury. Then, Hoosiers everywhere worried this season when Ratliff walked to the sideline of Branch McCracken Court holding his left wrist during the Dec. 30, contest against Ball State. The injury, a strained tendon, prevented Ratliff from playing the following two games. In the games since his return to the lineup on Jan. 10, Ratliff has improved noticeably from where he was at the start of the season. In his first game back on the floor, he scored just three points in the first half against Purdue. Then, he found his shot in the second half, scoring 13 points for an impressive total of 16 points. He went 6-of-6 from the floor, including 4-of-4 from behind the arc.
"A.J.'s desire to play and get back on the floor was the driving force behind his return," men's basketball athletic trainer Tim Garl said. "Standing on the sideline during practice gave him the opportunity to see things as the coaching staff does. He could see what the other players were doing, both correctly and incorrectly. He developed a better understanding of each specific drill or play. He still has a sore wrist and aggravated it when he was fouled during the UConn game, but because it is his non-dominate hand, he is still able to do a lot of basketball activities without it bothering him."
The junior agrees with Garl's assessment of his improvement. "The time off really helped me improve my play because I got the chance to shoot a lot of shots with my injured off-hand," Ratliff said. "It also gave me a chance to rest my legs a little. I had been going pretty hard with little rest and the break was good for me."
While Ratliff has enjoyed being more of a scoring presence on the court, he has not lowered his defensive intensity. He currently stands second and third on the team this season in blocked shots and steals, respectively.
Ratliff's shooting and defensive abilities are abundant and make him and asset to the Indiana program. He fits well into first year head coach Kelvin Sampson's design of the Hoosier team due to those skills along with his resilience and positive attitude. Ratliff has noticed considerable improvements in the team dynamic from preseason workouts to now and attributes these to Sampson's doctrine.
"We have a lot more team toughness than we had earlier," Ratliff said. "We're starting to look like one of Coach Sampson's traditional teams. We're taking pride in defense and rebounding. He brought that back to the program."
Check back soon