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Darnell Archey’s Free Throws

January 20, 2003 Columns No Comments

Darnell Archey, Patron Saint of the Free Throw

by Adam Shandler

Poor free throw. Poor, miserable, under-appreciated free throw. If only School House Rock produced an animated music video a la “I’m Just a Bill”, maybe the free throw would be as celebrated as the no-look pass or alley-oop.

Why is the free throw that downtrodden, George Costanza in the Seinfeld pantheon of college basketball? Why, when we see a commercial on cable TV for a free-throw shooting instructional video, would we rather flip to an old episode of Hardcastle and McCormick on Bravo? Why don’t we see more kids on the playground working on their free-throw form? Why aren’t those kids saying “When I grow up, I want to be just like Darnell Archey?”

Let’s face it. You care less about the free throw than any other nuance of the game. You don’t take notice of charity chuks unless they decide the outcome of a game in its final minute, or your team is shooting so poorly from the line that FT stats become the hairy mole on the face of a supermodel. You just can’t help but notice ’em then!

The pariah status of the free throw can be summed up in one simple point. We’ve been raised to watch basketball with an eye trained for MTV and Inside Stuff. Superficial, in-your-face dunks, behind-the-back, fast break passes and not-in-my-house swat-aways are what draw us to the game. Those elements are fast, impactful, percussive. They get us off our seats. They make Stuart Scott go “Boo-ya!”, and sometimes we all need a Boo-ya to make us feel good.

Free throws? Well, they slow down the game. They have their own personality that the rest of the game is forced to respect. There’s a special line where the shooter stands and special boxes for would-be rebounders. And in an effort to make organization of this act possible, we must…stop…the…clock. Thus, the game comes to a screeching halt.

So it’s no wonder that Butler’s Darnell Archey, who was not named as a starter until this year, was tucked away in the basketball headlines as he marched to a new Division I free throw record. 85 to be exact. (Plus who knows how many countless others he hit consecutively in practice?) And he shattered the previous mark of 73, set in the 2000-01 campaign by Villanova’s Gary Buchanon. Archey’s streak started on February 8, 2001 and lasted 56 games, before it ended with a cruel bounce during the second half of the Bulldog’s Horizon win over Youngstown State this past Saturday. (Archey hit 44 straight in the 2002-03 season alone.)

If you’re Paul Cluxton, you’re probably saying, “Ha! 85 free throws? You call that a record?” Archey’s 85 were just 13 shy of the NCAA all-divisions record of 98 set by Cluxton, of Division II Nothern Kentucky in 1995-97. There’s plenty of season left, and who knows, if the 6-1 Archey keeps cutting to the basket and challenging larger defenders, he just might be on his way to breaking another record — his own and Cluxton’s.

But let’s cut Archey some slack. His streak isn’t chopped liver. After 85 straight, he’s entitled to miss one. All the muscle memory in the world, all the post-practice foul shots in a career sometimes can’t stop the inevitable from coming. And as with any record, it’s always hardest to hold it once you’ve broken it. As a record holder, you are the new standard bearer, the new “guy-to-beat”, and you’re only as good as your last attempt.

85 straight. That’s a whole lotta shots and a whole lotta face-painted co-eds waving pom-poms at you trying ice you up. Can you hit 10 straight in your driveway? Maybe if more players followed Archey’s lead and took care of one of the most fundamental and important pieces of the game (because, clearly, free throws don’t come free) we’d have higher overall free throw percentages and more free throws made. Hey, even more free throw shooting contests on the playgrounds!

Of course, that might cut into all those dunk-offs and million-dollar half-court shot attempts.


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