A.J. Ratliff wants to make sure that what happened to him a year ago won't happen this time around.
As a freshman, the Indianapolis product had a more than respectable debut season, averaging 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds while leading the Hoosiers in 3-point shooting (43.6%). He played in IU's final 26 games and started 14 times, including 11 times during conference play.
There were enough good things to lead many to suspect that the 6-2, 180-pounder from North Central H.S. might wind up in the starting lineup this season, ready to build on what he accomplished a season ago.
But Ratliff heard what people had to say, and he knows how it felt to be pushed around on the basketball court. He remembers IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan joking with him about his sinewy frame, referring to his biceps as "mosquito bites."
He remembers television announcers marveling at his athleticism, yet remarking that he had plenty of work to do on his "skinny arms."
But more than anything else, Ratliff remembers the lessons he learned from the likes of players like Pierre Pierce and Kelvin Torbert, big-time athletes with big-time bodies as well.
"It's embarrassed getting punked on TV – people talking about you and about your little arms," said Ratliff. "The Big Ten is a strong physical conference, and that was my one knock – I'm weak, you can knock me off and push me around."
In an effort to put an end to the razzing and to shore up his game, Ratliff has spent the off-season as a regular in the weight room. He's been lifting twice a day, everyday, and added ten pounds of muscle over the summer months. The start of fall conditioning has resulted in some of the added weight coming off, but there's no doubt that Ratliff will be better prepared to deliver some blows, and not just take them.
While his troubles a year ago might not have been as obvious to the casual on-looker, Ratliff says he knew right away that he needed to get stronger. One of the players who showed him that last season was Pierce, the Iowa wing who scored 25 points off the bench against IU in late January.
"He tossed me around like a rag doll," said Ratliff. "Looking at him he doesn't look strong, but his lower body strength is incredible. He posted me up one time and I couldn't go anywhere. I was fighting to get around him, but he's so strong in his lower body and he has strong arms, so he could just hold me off.
"It was kind of embarrassing."
But that experience also gave Ratliff something to strive for – doing what he needed to in the off-season so that he could give players the same sort of problems that Pierce gave him.
"(Pierce) had a post game and an outside game," said Ratliff. "I was like, ‘I want to be like that.'"
Ratliff has taken some big steps in that direction this summer. During scrimmages, he's sought out his Hoosier teammate who is the best at running off screens so that he's ready to fight through them once the season starts.
"I always want to guard (Robert) Vaden because he's so good coming off screens, and I had a lot of trouble with that last year," said Ratliff.
Ratliff has make big strides, and he is preparing for his second season bigger, stronger and more confident about what sort of contribution he can make this season.
"The coaching staff wanted me to get in the weight room this summer, but I knew I wanted to do that as well," said Ratliff. "It's something that I wanted to put in more effort with because I was tired of getting knocked around.
"I want to do the knocking around."
Ratliff Won't Get Fooled Again
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