Bloomington, Ind. – IU Coach Kelvin Sampson might have been addressing the media after IU's 57-47 win over Southern Illinois, but he delivered a message to A.J. Ratliff.
The Hoosiers' 6-3 guard was seated next to his head coach, just moments after pacing Indiana with 14 points, three assists and three steals against the Salukis. Sampson admitted he was pleased with what he'd seen from the junior from Indianapolis, but he was more interested to see if this effort was something to build on, or just the latest blip on Ratliff's roundball radar.
And he wanted to make sure Ratliff heard what he was talking about.
"From what I've seen of A.J., he's pretty good one night, and then he's in the witness protection program the next," Sampson said.
A player overflowing with potential and promise, Ratliff's first two seasons have left on-lookers befuddled and bewildered more than anything else. He spent his first two seasons in the shadows of Robert Vaden on the wing, and consistency has been an elusive goal for the 2004 Indiana Mr. Basketball.
As a freshman he averaged 5.8 points while starting 14 of 26 games, including five double-digit scoring efforts. But he struggled down the stretch, failing to score in double figures in his final five games, including a pair of zero-point efforts in postseason losses to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament and to Vanderbilt in the NIT.
There was more of the same a season ago. A broken thumb slowed him early on, but a 21-point, 6-of-9 shooting effort against Kentucky was supposed to be the game that catapulted Ratliff into spotlight. But he regressed from there, reaching double figures only one more time the rest of the way while being held without a point on five different occasions.
Ratliff is averaging a career-best 9.2 points this season while playing 23.2 minutes/game, but he's still too up-and-down for Sampson's taste. As good as he was against Southern Illinois and Charlotte (18 points, three steals), he was a non-factor in the Hoosiers' road losses at Duke (two points, 10 minutes) and Kentucky (four points, 16 minutes).
Sampson and his staff are looking to get the some consistency from Ratliff, and it's not so much about point and rebounds. Instead, it's about the sort of effort Ratliff exerts when he takes to the floor.
"I don't judge how a kid players by his statistics," Sampson said. "I judge a kid by how hard I think he's playing, how hard he's competing. How hard is A.J. playing? When we go to practice (Monday) and Tuesday, his challenge will be putting together back-to-back good performances in terms of effort."
That opportunity will come against a Western Michigan team that enters Wednesday's 7 p.m. contest with a 4-6 mark. The Broncos are 0-3 on the road this season and 1-6 overall in games played away from the Kalamazoo campus.
It's the second of a three-game week for the Hoosiers, who also travel to Indianapolis Friday to play IUPUI.
"We'll see if he shows up Wednesday," Sampson said, "or if we have to get the hounds out after him."
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