As A.J. Ratliff prepares for his second season in an IU uniform, he knows exactly what his limitations are.
On a team that features a handful of players with NBA-caliber skills and aspirations, the player with the most promise might just by the 6-2, 180-pound guard from Indianapolis' North Central H.S.
Ratliff, who averaged 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds a year ago, combines long arms with eye-opening athleticism, making him the sort of player who is overflowing with potential. He showed glimpses of it a year ago, such has in a seven-point, six-rebound, four-block effort in IU's double-overtime win at Purdue, or in a 15-point effort in a 15-point win over Minnesota with Bracey Wright on the sidelines.
IU Coach Mike Davis has seen that potential, as did Ratliff's high school coach, Doug Mitchell. Both have told Ratliff as much in recent years.
During Ratliff's first season in Bloomington, Davis stopped practice on occasion to make the point to Ratliff that he wasn't the sort of player who should just blend in.
"We often had that conversation last year (about him having the potential to be the best player on the floor)," said Ratliff. "He'd sometimes say I'm not reaching my potential because I have all this God-given talent, and I just needed to go out and use it."
What Davis wants is to see Ratliff be willing to assert himself more on both ends of the floor.
"He'd tell me I wasn't being aggressive enough, and I think there was some truth to that," said Ratliff.
North Central H.S. Coach Doug Mitchell, meanwhile, has been telling Ratliff about his limitless potential for years. At first Ratliff didn't necessarily believe his prep coach, but eventually Mitchell's predictions came to fruition.
"He used to tell me I'd be a (high school) All-American and Mr. Basketball, and I didn't believe him at first," said Ratliff. "He'd tell me I had all this raw talent and that all I had to do was work on my game some more, and it came true.
"He used to tell me that I could be the best player. It was just up to me if I wanted it badly enough to work on my game to accomplish it."
Ratliff did that in high school and wound up earning the Mr. Basketball award as a high school senior, and how he's trying to take the next step at the college level. Ratliff knew getting bigger and stronger was a big part of doing that, and he's spent the off-season doing just that. Some added weight and muscle and prepared him to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor.
"Offensively, I'm driving more (than I did as a freshman)," Ratliff said. "I think with the added strength came me driving with authority. I've been doing that a lot more when my jump shot isn't falling. "
If Ratliff can combine the ability to attack the basket with his 3-point shooting prowess - he shot a team-best 43.6 percent from behind the arc a year ago – then he might just wind up being the sort of player that keeps opposing coaches awake at night trying to figure out how to contain him.
Ratliff realizes that he has the ability to be more than simply a player who fits in on a talent-laden roster. Instead, he has the potential to stand out.
"The ball is in my court - it's how I handle the pressure and the hype of being who I am and using those talents," said Ratliff. "It's up to me, how much I put into the game, with the lifting and working off the court and on the court.
"If I do that, I really feel the sky is the limit. I feel like no one is going to be able to stop me."
Bubbling Over With Ability
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