Sunshine State Standouts

University of Arkansas basketball signee Marvell Waithe has led his Tallahassee CC squad to a 19-3 mark this season and also had a chance to play against two other Florida junior college standouts and potential Razorbacks - Central Florida's Ricardo Raliffe (6-8, 240) and Gulf Coast's Eric Buckner (6-10, 220).

There's a very simple reason that University of Arkansas basketball coaches have spent so much time watching junior college games in Florida this season.

Not only have the Razorbacks landed a signee down there in Tallahassee Community College small forward Marvell Waithe (6-9, 216), but want to apparently sign both Central Florida CC power forward Ricardo Ratliffe (6-9, 240) and 6-10 center Eric Buckner of Gulf Coast CC.

Waithe, averaging a team-leading 15.3 points and 7 rebounds per game this season while shooting nearly 80 percent from the free throw line, has got a chance to play both of the other two prospects this season and gone 2-1 against them.

"They are both very good players," Waithe said. "Ricardo is just a beast and he (Buckner) has really improved and really become a leader for his team. It would be nice to get both of them to Arkansas with me."

Tallahassee is now 19-3 on the season, 5-1 in Panhandle Conference action with Waithe averaging 20 points per game since conference action got underway.

He did miss Saturday night's because of a hip flexor.

"Our team got out of the gate slow, but has really started gelling lately and playing really well as a team," Waithe said. "We have been making plays at the end of the games and just getting the things we needed done to win."

It has helped greatly that Tallahassee has a great inside-out combination with 6-10, 240-pound Florida State signee Bernard James (14.4, 10.6) handling things in the paint and Waithe being extremely productive on the outside.

"I think that the versatility that we both have has really made it tough on our opponents," Waithe said. "He can do so many things down low, but also step out and face up and knock down shots.

"I certainly have been able to get some things done inside also, but mostly he has allowed me to play outside and really take advantages of mismatches against the 6-5 and 6-6 guys trying to guard me," Waithe added.

Waithe, a former Mr. Basketball in Canada, knew he was going to be drawing a lot more attention this season from defenses after averaging 18.9 points and 9 rebounds last season.

He did not shoot well early, but has seen his percentage from the floor get back over 40 percent and he has been more accurate since conference play.

"It's really been challenging, but I think I have met that challenge," Waithe said. "I have seen a bunch of different defenses – a lot of box and ones, people tagging me and just paying a lot more attention to me than they did because of all the success I had my first season here.

"Shooting has never really been a problem for me, but I didn't really handle the attention early like I have I learned to as the season has gone along," Waithe added. "But I have just let my offense come to me and it has helped my teammates get open shots and more opportunities and that has allowed us to win, which is the most important thing."

Waithe has been watching his future team, who also struggled out of the gate without starting point guard Courtney Fortson, but took down SEC West Division leaders Mississippi State and Ole Miss last week.

"I have watched a lot of their games and I have been on the edge of my seat just living and dying with them" Waithe said. "The last one I saw was the Florida one and that was very frustrating because we should have won it and played really well for the most part of that game.

"There have just been a few things in each of the losses that have kept them from winning," Waithe added. "I think they are getting better and I think that me and the other guys that have signed and might sign are going to come up there and help get them over and making us consistent winners. There is a lot of very good players there and they just need little more help that we are going to bring."

He hopes he brings the aforementioned junior college standouts with him and he certainly has got a look at both.

TCC has split games with Ratliffe's squad and downed Buckner's in their only match-up.

Ratliffe had 27 points with his team taking the first game. But Waithe, who had just 4 points in that contest, came back with 22 and Ratliffe had 16 in a foul-plagued effort.

"Like I said before he is just a beast and we had no answer for him during the first game," Waithe said. "He had nearly 30 points and got it done down low, but even stepped out and hit some 3-pointers that surprised us. We had a better plan and knowledge of how to execute it that second game and it helped us he got into foul trouble."

Waithe has tried to do his part in helping recruit Ratliffe to Arkansas.

"I have talked to him when we have played and I have started to send him messages on facebook and tell him how great it would be for us to play together at Arkansas," Waithe said. "He hasn't been up there, but I have told him what great facilities they have, great coaches and what a great school it is."

Is Ratliffe – a friend and former AAU teammate of current Razorback Marshawn Powell – listening?

"He said he is definitely going to visit and he has them up there high on his list," Waithe said. "I am going to keep talking to him and help us out."

Ratliffe is having another sensation season, averaging 28 points and 12 rebounds for a 21-5 team that is 3-1 in the Mid-Florida Conference action.

That's why Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, UCONN, Alabama UNC-Charlotte, TCU, South Carolina and others have offered him scholarships and why Kentucky and Louisville have expressed interest.

The nation's top junior college prospect – per Juco - has become Central Florida's all-time leading scorer in the process.

"It feels good," Ratliffe told "It is probably the biggest accomplishment of my career besides being named All-American last year. I kind of figured I was going to do it after beating the single-season (scoring) record last year. I thought I would do the same thing this year and do better."

But Ratliffe is most proud of his improved passing ability.

"It feels good to get all the points, but my passing has got a lot better, so I am getting more assists than I got last year, too," Ratliffe said. "My assist-to-turnover ratio is much better. It feels good. I am playing better overall."

Waithe admits to being much more appreciative of Buckner's game this season.

"He really has come on and turned himself into a very good player," Waithe said. "What I really liked about him this year in addition to his improved skills is that he really has taken over as the leader of that team.

"Last year they had Marcus Gilstrap, who went on to Iowa State, and some other great players who really did all of that, but he has clearly taken over that role this season," Waithe said. "He would be another good fit for Arkansas."

Buckner is averaging 10.5 points and 5,8 rebounds this season, but is currently out of action with a fractured right hand per Gulf Coast head coach Jay Powell.

He did so after punching a wall in practice after getting hit in the face inadvertently with a basketball.

"We viewed Eric as a one of our leaders because he had so much experience off of last year's team, so anytime you lose someone like that it really hurts you," Powell told the Panama City (FL) News Herald. "When one man goes down, it's an opportunity for other men to step up and show what they're capable of doing."

Buckner visited LSU during the early period, but decided to not sign in November and take some more visits.

"We try to do all of our official visits before games start," Powell said. "Once games start then we call them off."

Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia State, Iowa State, Missouri, Auburn, St. John's and Clemson are some of the teams hoping to get visits.

Powell expects Buckner to return by the second week of February, either Feb. 10 against Tallahassee or Feb. 13 at Chipola.

Gulf Coast is 14-9 this season, but only 1-5 in the Panhandle Conference.

Marvell Waithe

Ricardo Ratliffe

Eric Buckner

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