Sampson Looks To Unlock Ratliff's Potential

Bloomington, Ind. – Kelvin Sampson had a couple of observations when he first watched A.J. Ratliff on tape.

Bloomington, Ind. – Kelvin Sampson had a couple of observations when he first watched A.J. Ratliff on tape.

First off, the Hoosiers' new head coach sat down with the Hoosiers' 6-3, 188-pound junior and said there was a whole lot more that he could be doing to help Indiana win basketball games.

"He said I was playing way under potential," Ratliff said. "He said I was looking timid, that I didn't know when to shoot."

Ratliff's initial reaction was to be a bit taken back by Sampson's remarks.

"At first you're like, ‘I wasn't timid,'" said Ratliff. "Then you look back, and he knows what he's talking about, with 20 years of coaching and being in the Big 12. I think I was timid. I didn't know when to shoot and when not to."

Part of that was because Mike Davis' offense was designed to go through Marco Killingsworth in the post, and then have the Hoosiers' big man either look to score or kick it back out to the perimeter if he was double teamed. That resulted in plenty of standing, watching, and waiting on Ratliff's part, something he won't be doing this season in Sampson's offense.

"He said his offense is about moving, and you'll never have a chance to stand," Ratliff said.

Sampson's second observation was that there was a lot more that Ratliff had to offer than the 3.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 16.9 minutes that he chipped in during a frustrating sophomore season.

"He said ‘you need to shoot the ball,'" Ratliff said. "He said I should play every game like I played the second half of Kentucky."

In Indiana's 74-53 win over the Wildcats a year ago Ratliff came off the bench to score 21 second-half points against the Wildcats, a performance that many figured would jump start his season. But Ratliff's production dipped once league play opened, as he averaged 3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds in 16 conference games.

"He said my confidence was way down, and the first thing he did was build up my confidence," Ratliff said. "He said, ‘you're going to be an all-conference player.' And that sent my confidence sky high."

That confidence boost has been evident during open gym workouts, according to Ratliff's teammates. Instead of playing a secondary role on the offensive end, the Indianapolis North Central H.S. graduate has been a primary offensive weapon no matter who he's been playing alongside.

"AJ Ratliff has benefited the most from (Sampson's approach)," said sophomore center Ben Allen. "He's leaped ahead by leaps and bounds and is doing well. He's a competitor and wants to win everything, which is a different A.J. than last year. In open gym he's talking a lot, he wants to win and never wants to lose."

Ratliff knows his contributions will be equally important on the defensive end of the court, and Sampson has emphasized the sort of impact he can make on that end of the floor.

"He said I'm probably going to be one of his lockdown guys," Ratliff said. "He said before every game he's going to put a pair handcuffs in my locker - go lock their best player up. He's known for that, getting after people on defense. I'm blessed with the physical features, and he's going to teach me the mental part of the game of playing defense how he wants me to."

Ratliff also knows that the make-up of the team will be much different than it was a year ago, meaning he'll have to be more assertive offensively if Indiana is going to be successful.

"Now I have to pick up the scoring load," Ratliff said. "Robert Vaden left, Marco left, Marshall Strickland (is gone) - that's our top three scorers. So it's time for me to step up and become one of the top scorers. I'm going to have to do a lot more."

Sampson, meanwhile, has given Ratliff the confidence that he can do just that.

"My confidence has been high, I've been kicking butt in conditioning, kicking butt in open gyms," Ratliff said. "I just have to keep my confidence high because he's built that foundation for me."

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