Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe (left) defends Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn during the first round of the NCAA tournament in Omaha, Neb., on March 16, 2012. Ratliffe and O'Quinn will participate in the PIT Wednesday through Saturday at Churchland High in Portsmouth. (Doug Pensinger, Getty Images / March 16, 2012)
The Disappointment was acute. Now, the determination is strong.
Ricardo Ratliffe, the former Kecoughtan High star and the 2009-10 national junior college player of the year, led the nation by making 69 percent of his shots as a senior this season at Missouri as the Tigers went 30-5 and won the Big 12 tournament title.
"It was a great experience, but I wasn't at all surprised," Ratliffe said. "Before the season, we always said, 'championship.' We weren't one of those teams that just went out there and said '1-2-3' (in team huddles.) We said 'championship.' "
The Tigers' aspirations of larger titles, however, ended with a first-round loss to 15th seed Norfolk State in the NCAA tournament.
"I didn't talk to anybody for maybe a week," Ratliffe said. "I didn't sleep. I wasn't answering texts or anything like that. I didn't go in the gym for probably five days."
Gradually, Ratliffe returned to the court, and now he wants to prove he can be a next-level success there.
Ratliffe is one of a bevy of college seniors who will showcase their talents in the 60th annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which begins Wednesday at Churchland High. Ratliffe, along with the likes of Georgetown's Jason Clark, Syracuse's Scoop Jardine, Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn and ODU's Kent Bazemore, will try to impress a glitterati of NBA personnel that has included Pacershead honcho Larry Bird and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge in past years.
"For Ratliffe, this is a perfect opportunity," NBA director of scouting Ryan Blake said. "This is going to help him tremendously, just by showing up."
The 6-foot-8 Ratliffe aims to demonstrate skills that may not have been evident during his two seasons at Missouri, where he averaged 10.6 points and six rebounds as a junior and 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds this past season, primarily as a low-post player.
"When I hear coaches talk about me, they talk about me as an undersized center," said Ratliffe, whose current three-a-day workouts are focusing on improving his ball-handling skills and stamina. "… That was my role at Missouri, but I really categorize myself as a forward.
"I can do a few more things than I've shown. I can knock down 17-footers. I can handle the ball. I can start the break. I'm just trying to show that I'm more of an all-around player than people have been able to see the last two years."
That sounds smart to longtime NBA consultant Chris Ekstrand.
"The NBA is all about matchups these days. A lot of teams are playing smaller," said Ekstrand, who envisions Ratliffe at the three spot, or small forward. "If he can bring some rebounding to that position but also have a perimeter game where he can make an outside shot here and there and move the ball around, that certainly will make him more versatile.
"In college, he could dominate with his size and athletic ability, but when he gets into the NBA — and I think he has a good chance to make the NBA — he's going to have to be more versatile and do more things."
Ratliffe was the Daily Press boys basketball player of the year after averaging 28 points and 13 rebounds as a senior at Kecoughtan in 2007-08. He didn't qualify academically for Division I play, though, so he headed to Central Florida Community College, where he earned back-to-back first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-America honors.
"I didn't expect to take the path I did," said Ratliffe, who scored a single-season record 855 points as a sophomore, averaging 27.4 points and 11.3 rebounds and re-igniting a flood of D-I interest. "But when all was said and done it was worth it, even though I didn't take the normal route of a lot of other players."
Blake, who tracks junior college players for NBA teams, has followed Ratliffe's career. He sees Ratliffe as "a stretch power forward" in the mold of the Morris brothers, Markieff and Marcus, former stars at Kansas now in the NBA.
"He can handle the ball from the top of key. He can shoot from three," Blake said. "(At the PIT), we really want to see you at a couple of positions, but we also say, 'Don't do things that are out of your wheelhouse.' You come in to play within yourself and you come in to win."
Ratliffe already has proven he can do that.
"He's climbed the mountaintop," Ekstrand said. "He was successful at the juco level, which isn't always easy to do, and then he went to the four-year level and he made a big impact. Those are things that are going to make NBA teams look at you, because you've proven that you're a winner.
"Ratliffe has all the boxes checked up until now. Now he's got more proving to do."
Portsmouth Invitational Tournament
WHERE: Churchland High School, 4301 Cedar Lane, Portsmouth.
TICKETS: $10 a night or $32 for four days. Call 757-393-5460 or 757-671-8100 for information and to purchase tickets.