Former Hillsboro High School standout Christian Ratzlaff only left for Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 27, but already has a nickname on his new team.
“The Dude,” said Kyan Brown, an assistant basketball coach at Oral Roberts University. “When I saw him I said, ‘there’s that dude right there.’”
After earning second-team class 2A honors and helping lead Hillsboro to the state tournament this past season, Ratzlaff goes to Oral Roberts as a preferred walk-on. Because a knee injury sidelined him for his junior season, Ratzlaff had to put feelers out to schools in which he was interested.
“I really like (Oral Roberts) for the school side of it,” he said. “I didn’t play my junior year, so I didn’t get a lot of looks and you miss out on a lot of recruiting opportunities if you miss your junior year.”
Ratzlaff had to overcome injuries often in high school. A fractured lower back kept him out for the first half of his freshman season, in addition to missing his junior year.
He said missing that entire year — from summer tournaments to the varsity season — kept him from developing as well as he could have, and he was just getting to full strength by the time the 2013-14 season began.
During the season, he was asked to score, defend opponents’ post players, and help lead the team.
“I had to learn as I went,” he said. “I never had to be the main scorer because I always had several other scorers to spread it around with.”
Hillsboro head coach Darrel Knoll said Ratzlaff did a nice job adjusting and using the year off to work on his shooting and strength. In addition to scoring, he said Ratzlaff led the team in rebounding, shot a high percentage from three, and kept his turnovers low.
“The fact he couldn’t play made him realize how special it is,” Knoll said. “He was grateful to play and be a part of a really good team.”
The competition in Division I basketball is different than in high school, though. After scrimmaging with the team at Oral Roberts, he said the players were much taller and faster than he was used to, but he would adjust accordingly.
Since the high school season ended, Ratzlaff worked on improving his ball handling, shooting while fatigued, and becoming a faster player altogether.
“I got lucky I hit a growth spurt and got wider, because 6-3 is nothing special on that court,” he said. “I’m going to have to work on my foot speed, just because everybody’s a freak athlete on that level.”
Christian’s uncle Micah, who is the head coach of the Tabor College men’s team, also went to ORU after graduating from Hillsboro.
“I know Christian wanted to explore some options in a bigger town and Oral Roberts is a Christian school, which is important to him,” he said. “And the opportunity to play against big-time talent was a good deal for him.”
Micah Ratzlaff said his only advice to his nephew was not to expect anything right away, and to go with the flow.
“Obviously we would have loved to have him at Tabor,” he said. “But I’m glad he had the opportunity to get away and play at a higher level.”
Brown said the Golden Eagle staff felt Ratzlaff’s character and work ethic fit with the school, and his presence on the roster will help the team down the road, because “there’s never a shortage of need for shooters.”
“We’re just excited to have him down here,” Brown said. “I think we’ve got us a good one in ‘The Dude.’”