COLUMBIA, Mo. – Ricardo Ratliffe was an eighth-grader before he started playing competitive basketball. It didn't take him long to become a top Division-I player.
Now he's beefing up No. 11 Missouri's inside game as one of the top junior college recruits.
The junior is averaging 12.8 points and seven rebounds since the Tigers (17-3, 3-2 Big 12) began conference play. He's been an intimidator at times with a pair of six-block games, the latest in Saturday night's rout of Iowa State, to go with a feisty offensive game around the lane.
"Other people noticed I was pretty good before I did," Ratliffe said Monday. "Some of my coaches and friends started telling me I'm getting really good really fast."
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Ratliffe was so good during his two-year stint at Central Florida Community College that his jersey now hangs from the rafters. He averaged 27.4 points and 11.3 rebounds as a sophomore and with 855 points broke his own school record from the previous season.
Rivals.com said Ratliffe was the top junior college recruit in the nation after his sophomore season. He was twice picked for the NJCAA All-American first team and was the National Junior College Athlete of the Year in 2010.
This fall, he was the Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year.
"He was the big dog at Central Florida and he came with great accolades," coach Mike Anderson said. "This is a new level here. We have some other guys who were the best where they've been, too."
It didn't take long for Ratliffe to figure that out.
"I went from the best player in the country and now I'm just a good player in the country," Ratliffe said. "Coach A always tells me if I keep working hard then I can become the player I was at that level on this level."
The transition hasn't always been easy.
Ratliffe was the focus of the offense in junior college, and he played nearly every minute in his two seasons. On defense, he was forced to play conservatively to avoid foul trouble.
At Missouri, Ratliffe is averaging just under 26 minutes in the Tigers' up-tempo system that uses multiple substitutions to keep players fresh. Less time on the floor has allowed Ratliffe to establish himself on defense.
"Knowing I don't have to play 40 minutes means I can be more aggressive, especially on defense blocking shots," he said. "If I get a couple of fouls, we have a sub off the bench who's just as good as me, so we don't lose anything."
Off the court, Ratliffe had to start over with a new group of teammates where the talent gap wasn't so obvious.
"The ultimate challenge is coming in and just trying to fit in," Anderson said. "He had to play catch-up on both ends and you can tell he's a lot more comfortable now."
The shots may not be falling at the same rate as they were back in Florida, something Ratliffe admits frustrates him. But his teammates know the talent is there.
Forward Laurence Bowers, who has become the beneficiary of increased attention to Ratliffe on the offensive end, constantly reminds the newcomer how good he can be.
"I'm always in his ear making sure he's level-headed and telling him how important it is to be consistent," Bowers said. "He does a lot of things and helps the team out in ways you couldn't even imagine."
The Tigers face one of their toughest tests this season on Saturday at No. 7 Texas (16-3, 4-0). Missouri has won three straight in the series.