A.J. Ratliff has learned there's a difference between what you want, and what you need.
The one-time Indiana Mr. Basketball came to IU with high expectations, ones that have generally gone unfulfilled to date. There have been some intermittent peaks to his 2 ½ years in Bloomington - such as his 21-point effort against Kentucky last season - but the valleys have been low and painstakingly long.
One of those dips came earlier this season, when Coach Kelvin Sampson sat the 6-2 junior for the entire second half of IU's 54-51 loss at Duke as a result of an uninspired and unproductive first-half of play at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Sampson's decision probably didn't do Ratliff's ego a great deal of good, but the message was an important one, according to Ratliff.
"For big games, I really haven't shown up," Ratliff said. "No one has really put it in (my) face like Coach Sampson has. It was like, ‘what have you done? Everyone pats you on the butt, but what have you really done?'"
With the exception of last year's Kentucky effort, Ratliff's big game resume is paper thin. He did do an admirable job in IU's NCAA tourney loss to Gonzaga when he scored nine points, added eight rebounds, and limited NCAA scoring champion Adam Morrison to 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting, but otherwise his contributions on the big stage have been sparse. He reached double figures in only one Big Ten game last season (11 at Penn State), and his contributions in losses at Wisconsin (zero points), at Illinois (three points), at Iowa (three points) and against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament (zero points) were minimal, to put it mildly.
That wasn't necessarily something Ratliff was proud of, but something Sampson thought he needed to know.
"Sometimes you need brutal honesty," Ratliff said. "Your whole family is going to tell you what you want to hear, but no one is going to tell you what you really need to hear. I think I really needed that."
Since that Duke contest, Ratliff has averaged 12.0 points in the last six games, including four double-digit scoring efforts – two more than he had all of last season. He's upped his scoring to 9.5 points/game this season, which ranks fifth on the team behind D.J. White (13.0), Rod Wilmont (10.6), Earl Calloway (10.5) and Lance Stemler (9.9).
His shooting (41.9 percent overall, 31.3 percent from 3-point range) aren't where he or Sampson want them to be, but he's 13-of-24 in his last three outings, including 6-of-14 from behind the 3-point arc.
He knows he's still a work in progress, but with only a limited amount of time remaining to tap into his potential, he's glad Sampson is trying to light a fire under him.
"When you look at it, I'm already in the second semester of my junior year, so time is flying by," Ratliff said. "It was time to pick up my stuff and just go ahead and play."
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