Thoughts on Ratliff

As we reported a half an hour ago at HeraldTimesOnline.com, A.J. Ratliff is off the IU basketball team.

I still don’t know what the “personal issues” are that are forcing his departure, but I hope he can get them worked out. As I understand it, A.J. will stay in school at IU with some continued financial assistance. I’ve always liked A.J. as a person. He’s a friendly, polite guy with a quick smile. A.J. wants people to like him and he is well-liked.


As he’s had trouble with grades and other issues, I’ve thought one possible reason was that A.J. seems like a guy who’ll follow others, even if it may get him in trouble or keep him from handling his responsibilities, which is a perilous quality on a college campus with so many people who’d rather be young and wild than take care of their business. Even in interviewing A.J., he’s a guy who’ll say what you want him to say – he’s that accommodating. With the basketball ability A.J. possesses, it’s sad and surprising for his senior year to be so fruitless on the court.

When A.J. first arrived at IU, I wrote a story about him and his personal background. Some of that seems relevant – and sad – now, so here’s that story, if you care to take a look.

A.J. finds his way
Moving in with relatives in Indiana changed Ratliff’s life

By Doug Wilson Herald-Times Sports Writer
October 14, 2004

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series on the four IU basketball freshmen coaches and fans see as the key to the future.

The A.J. Ratliff Hoosier fans will see at Midnight Madness Friday night is a far different one from the Ratliff of just a few years ago.

His electric smile and warm personality are assets Ratliff has possessed all his life. But the basketball skills, work ethic and confidence that made him Indiana’s Mr. Basketball last year are more recent.

Back when he started middle school, Ratliff didn’t even really play basketball, living in football country in rural New Iberia, La. That year, he flunked sixth grade because he didn’t turn in his homework. At night, he hung out late with older cousins and sometimes got into fights.

His mother, Tracy Ratliff, remembers coming home from her job at the local Fruit of the Loom factory one evening to find a crowd gathered in the street to watch some boys mix it up. At the center, A.J. Ratliff, then 11, was one of the combatants.

“When I saw that I was frightened,” she said. “A.J. was never one to start trouble, but he was around boys who did. I saw that something needed to happen.”

She stood in the middle of the street and prayed for her son. With her husband, Amos, in jail, A.J.’s future was in her hands.

Through providence or coincidence, Tracy’s younger brother, Joshua Gilbert, soon came to visit with his wife, Stephanie. He brought an unexpected proposal. The Gilberts wanted A.J. to come live them in Fort Wayne for a year so their 5-year-old son would have a companion.

“I definitely didn’t want leave my family and come up here,” A.J. recalls. “But I probably wouldn’t have even finished high school down there.”

At 5-foot-6, Ratliff had one basketball skill, a crossover dribble that he still uses today. But his uncle Joshua, a 6-foot-8 former college basketball player, asked him if he’d like to become a good basketball player. He was hoping it would give A.J. something to be passionate about.

Soon Joshua had A.J. getting up at 6 a.m. every morning to work on basketball fundamentals. His wife, the former Stephanie Thompson, a 1991 Bloomington South graduate and avid IU basketball fan, kept A.J. busy well into the night after school, working on assignments she devised to improve his academic skills.

“I wasn’t used to what they were used to,” Ratliff said. “They were telling me what to do. They used to try to get me up to do workouts and I didn’t want to do it.

“They kept on top of my grades. They had to break me out of all my old habits and build me back up.”

But Ratliff gradually embraced the Gilbert way of doing things and he became excited about such unfamiliar family traditions as eating out every Friday night. His stay with the Gilberts worked out so well that his mother agreed it should continue through high school. Before his freshman year, the Gilberts moved to Indianapolis.

Ratliff attended North Central High School, where basketball coach Doug Mitchell regarded him as a throwback, a player you’d find in the gym working on his game no matter how early you arrived at school.

“His whole thing now is that he’s not going to let anybody outwork him,” Joshua Gilbert said. “He wasn’t like that before.”

Through his work with his aunt, Ratliff became a good student, earning a Core 40 diploma with a grade average of better than 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. His crowning achievement was winning the 2004 Mr. Basketball award as Indiana’s best high school player.

“Coming where I’m from and not playing basketball until eighth grade, it’s a great accomplishment,” Ratliff said. “But I’m in college now. I’m starting over and want to achieve new accomplishments.”

Since childhood, Ratliff has been in the habit of praying when he gets up in the morning and before going to bed. Every day, those prayers include thanks to the Gilberts for the love, time and money they invested to make his success possible, he said.

The biggest thrill about A.J. playing at IU, Joshua Gilbert joked, is that now he, not Ratliff, is the first to find any extra money that’s left around the house.

“It’s cool,” he said. “My grocery bill went down and I don’t have to hide the cookies anymore. I have socks again. They haven’t all been borrowed.”

Back in Louisiana, it’s been painful for Tracy Ratliff to have her son living hundreds of miles away, but amazing to learn of his accomplishments. “God does answer prayers,” she said. “He answered mine for A.J. through my brother.”

Ratliff’s father, Amos, is back home now and is working on building his relationship with A.J., whose real first name is also Amos. The elder Ratliff said alcohol problems were the cause of the trouble he got into years ago, but those problems are over.

“I did foolish things and got locked up,” he said. “But A.J. was always very respectful when I saw him. It’s so exciting to see what he’s doing now. All I can say is that I’m blessed.”

The younger Ratliff returned to Louisiana late this summer. He visited the school his 11-year-old sister Hope and 9-year-old brother Caleb attend. The children at the school applauded him as if he was an NBA superstar returning home.

“My younger siblings look up to me now,” Ratliff said. “I don’t want to let them down. I want them to see me doing the right thing so they won’t have to go through life selling drugs or getting caught in wrong life.”

A.J. Ratliff

Age: 18

Size: 6-foot-2, 180 pounds

Hometown: Indianapolis

Position: guard

Senior stats: 20 ppg, 6 rpg

National recruiting ranking: 95, according to All-Star Sports, “Top 800 High School Senior Basketball Players.”

High school coach says: “He shoots the ball so well and can take it to the basket and finish with authority. He gets better all the time. I don’t see a limit to it. Above all that, he’s a wonderful person. He’s a young man of great character.” — Doug Mitchell, Indianapolis North Central.”

2 comments

  1. There’s so much to say about a young man who became Mr.
    Basketball in the heart of basketball country, and then let it
    all slip away. It shows he had the work ethic and he had the talent.
    I’m not sure what happened but I’m very sorry for him that it
    ended this way.
    I wish him all the best in the future.

  2. With so much going for AJ it really is a shame he couldn’t have had a better ending to his career.
    Good Luck AJ,
    Graduate AJ,
    Make good decisions AJ,
    God Bless.

Comments are closed.