Seniors Under The Radar: Part One
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The NBA may be the only organization in the world where going to school for four years and having a degree is looked at as a negative in a lot of cases. In the NBA Draft especially, the younger a prospect is the better.
Future pros staying in school for four years now is virtually unheard of. With the draft’s age limit only requiring a prospect to be one year removed from high school, most players can’t wait to put their education aside to pursue a career in the NBA.
Believe it or not, though, there are still guys who do things the old school way and stay in school for four years before making the jump. Over the next several weeks leading up to the draft we will be telling the stories of some of the seniors trying to fulfill their lifelong dreams, starting this week with Ball State’s Jarrod Jones, Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore and Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe.
Jones Excited To Play Against The Best
At one point in high school Jarrod Jones was a highly ranked prospect with a lot of high major schools showing interest. Then he suffered a broken leg the summer before his senior year, which drastically reduced his exposure. While the big name schools went in other directions with their recruiting, Ball State’s interest never dwindled.
Their loyalty was rewarded as Jones became an instant contributor who was steady throughout his four years there. Jones averaged 13.3 points and 7.95 rebounds for his career, serving as the Cardinals’ go to guy from his sophomore year on.
If there are any concerns about how Jones is going to adjust to a smaller role against a higher level of competition, there shouldn’t be. Jones recognizes what he needs to do to carve a niche for himself in the NBA.
“It’s definitely a challenge I look forward to,” Jones said to HOOPSWORLD. “I’ve always enjoyed playing against a higher caliber of players. It makes it more fun because when you go against that type of player you usually tend to be able to go one-on-one instead of in a conference like the MAC where there’s one or two dominant guys on a team and the whole world can help. I just like to play in games where everyone is playing at a high level. It’s a great opportunity for me and it’s something I look forward to.
“I think anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a very humble person who has a very good work ethic. I’m always working. I think the fact that I didn’t go to a high major school, I’ve always been underrated as a player. So with that being said, I feel like I’ve had to push and work myself that much harder. When you feel like you’re underrated you don’t have time to have an ego or take days off. You feel like you always have to work and I have felt that throughout the past and continue to work hard every day because I feel like I have something to prove.”
Jones has been training with former NBA star and head coach John Lucas in Houston, Texas on expanding his game in preparation for working out against any and everybody he’s asked to. Lucas is trying to mold Jones into a versatile forward who can play multiple positions and hit jump shots from all over the floor. At 21 years old Jones is younger than the average senior with plenty of room to continue improving as he has already since the end of his season at Ball State.
“I think there’s just so much more to my game that once I get the opportunity and platform teams will really get to see that there’s a lot more they haven’t seen,” Jones said. “I know they’ve seen flashes. There have been games where I pulled a lot of tools out and have really been effective with them but I haven’t really gotten the chance to bring it all out on a consistent basis due to the personnel that we had on our team.”
Luckily for Jones, he’ll be surrounded by plenty of talent moving forward, which will allow him to shine like never before.
Theodore Loves This Game
One thing that is important for every senior with aspirations of getting drafted to show is consistent improvement and that’s exactly what Jordan Theodore did at Seton Hall. He got better every year and in his final season of eligibility he produced at a comparable rate to every other point guard in the country, putting up 16 points, three rebounds and nearly seven assists a contest.
Theodore’s success is the direct result of hard work. He’s always been a student of the game, studying current stars like Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo along with legends of the game like Pete Maravich, Isiah Thomas and Tiny Archibald. That sets him up for a smooth transition to the NBA.
“In the NBA, it’s all work,” Theodore said to HOOPSWORLD. “When you’re not at practice, you’re not at class. That’s your time to be in the gym and get better. Throughout my years of loving this game I’ve been fortunate to get my work done and spend countless hours in the gym. To make that transition to me is going to be an easy one because I love this game so much. I’m always in the gym. If I’m not practicing I’m going to be watching film or in the gym getting better. This has been my life, everything I’ve always wanted. I’m so close, I’m not going to let it break me now.”
Theodore is coming off of a strong performance at the Portsmouth Invitational, where he led the event in assists. That was a sign of how Theodore can shine and be effective in different situations.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Theodore said when asked if he had a style of play he preferred. “If I go to a team that is up tempo, I love that. But, if I go to a team that has a half court style and that’s what they ask me to run I can do that also. I’m good in the pick-and-roll game and I’m even more explosive in transition. I’m waiting to get into these workouts and make all these teams happy.”
Theodore is preparing for workouts with Real Gymm in Keyport, New Jersey with Donald Blanks and Larry Marshall. They’re focusing on adding strength and improving his three-point shooting. Theodore has heard the knocks on his game, but is open to working out against anyone because he knows how to get the most out of his skill set.
“A lot of guys knock me because of my height,” Theodore acknowledged. “People think that’s a weakness at the next level. But for me, I play with a lot of heart. I know my abilities and stick to them. I don’t try to go out of the box and do things I’m not accustomed to doing. They key for me is staying within myself and playing my game. And when I get into workouts I know I’ll shine the brightest.
“I’m definitely getting stronger every day. That’s one of the biggest things, getting strong, take the grind and all the physical bruises I’m going to get at the next level. My three-point shooting was a weakness for me, but now I’m getting better and I think I’m going to continue getting better.”
Theodore’s incredible work ethic should go a long way in helping his veteran teammates believe in him.
“As a rookie coming into the league, I think guys are going to look at me and say ‘he really wants to win and lead’,” Theodore said. “I’m very humble.”
Being humble and a dedicated worker has been a tremendous combination for previous rookies, and should bode well for Theodore also.
Ratliffe Just Scratching The Surface
Although Ricardo Ratliffe has only been playing Division I basketball for the past two years, he’s been surrounded by NBA talk since he graduated from high school. After a dominating career at Central Florida Community College, there were some who thought he should make the jump. But Ratliffe wisely thought better of it and decided to go to Missouri, where he eventually developed into one of the most efficient big men in the country.
Ratliffe shot an outstanding 69 percent from the field as a senior. He averaged 13 points and seven rebounds overall, and now feels much more ready to make the leap to the NBA.
“I feel that I’ll bring toughness,” Ratliffe said to HOOPSWORLD. “I’m a willing rebounder with the will to win. I’m willing to do whatever it takes for my team. Whatever it takes. If I have to sacrifice changing things in my game, I’m willing to do that.”
For now, Ratliffe is also working on polishing and developing his game at Real Gymm in New Jersey. They’re working heavily with him on his jump shot, ball handling and footwork. They were instrumental in preparing him for the Portsmouth Invitational, where he had a solid showing. Now Ratliffe is eager to build on that and show NBA teams that he’s still getting better despite being a four-year player.
“I feel I haven’t even touched my potential yet,” Ratliffe said. “People who see me play from my last game in college to now, they say I look like I’m a lot more fluid, confident with things they didn’t know I could do like make jump shots, handle the ball, and use my footwork. I feel like I’m getting better every day and I’m going to try to keep doing that.
“I have to improve every aspect of my game. I’d say most importantly my footwork because it is probably the most important thing in basketball. It can help you set up shots, get away from the defender, and have second, third and fourth options if the initial move is stopped. I also want to develop confidence in my jump shot. I have a lot better jump shot than I even think myself. I hesitate a lot, and that’s something they’re trying to get out of my game, the hesitation.”
One thing that can be said without hesitation is that Ratliffe has the build and ability of a future NBA player. And with the way he’s working and developing his game, he could end up shooting up the draft boards.