Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Butler player sets NCAA free throw record

The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS - As far as Darnell Archey is concerned, basketballs are like snowflakes. None is exactly alike.

So when the Butler guard couldn't get accustomed to the feel of the brand of ball used in last season's Hoosier Classic, he did what any perfectionist would do. He took a ball home. And slept with it.

"I'm kind of obsessed with it," he conceded.

It's a magnificent obsession, to be sure. There is no magic formula responsible for his streak of 76 consecutive free throws made, an NCAA Division I record.

Credit repetition, routine and relaxation.

Butler coaches marvel at the hours Archey spends in the gym. If they stop by Hinkle Fieldhouse at 10:30 on a summer night and hear a ball bouncing, they know who's there without looking.

"He's a guy who's just addicted to touching a basketball," assistant coach Brad Stevens said.

Archey's 74th free throw in a row, which came Saturday at Illinois-Chicago, broke the record of 73 by Gary Buchanan of Villanova from Nov. 17, 2000 to Feb. 12, 2001.

Buchanan's streak covered 21 games. An unusual element of Archey's streak is that it spans 53 games, beginning Feb. 15, 2001.

Archey, a senior, was not a starter until this season. Often he doesn't shoot free throws unless a technical is called on the opposing team, coming off the bench cold to do so. It should be hard to establish a rhythm with such infrequency, but Archey is as precise as digital technology.

The more distractions, the better.

Opponents ask what number he is on. A fan in Hawaii shouted that he wanted to see history -- by seeing him miss. Archey looked over and smiled.

"I'd rather shoot on the road than at home," he said. "It's so quiet here, you can hear anything. I like people booing me and talking to me. It helps me focus in more."

He was concerned that breaking the record might disrupt his concentration. Indeed, on No. 75, the ball hit the rim before falling through. For Archey, anything other than a swish is unacceptable.

His father, Dennis, started him off right by requiring his son at age 7 to establish a pattern.

Archey dribbles three times, takes a deep breath, bends his knees and follows through. When he shoots, he's thinking about all the free throws taken in the backyard or in an empty gym.

When he was a high school sophomore at New Castle, Ind., Archey made 96 free throws in a row in practice. He shot 89 percent as a senior and made 40 in a row -- short of the school record of 64 set by Steve Alford in 1982-83.

New Castle coach Steve Bennett said he helped Archey with "odds and ends" but otherwise left his technique alone.

"You don't mess with guys who can shoot as well as he can shoot," Bennett said.

Some of Archey's feats are legendary. In one Butler workout, he made eight 3-pointers in a row. Then he missed. Then he made 35 in a row, some from a step or two beyond the arc.

"It was pretty incredible," Stevens said.

Archey contended his free-throw form isn't textbook perfect, that his left hand is crooked rather than straight on follow-through. He said he rarely shoots more than 50 or 60 free throws a day.

Archey began counting each free throw to himself as the streak lengthened. Next up: No. 77.

"I hope that what he does from the free throw line would be a window of what we would like to do," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. "He takes it one free throw at a time. I don't think he thinks about anything else except that single mechanic and that single repetition."

Archey's greatest achievement has been a transformation into a more complete player. He leads Butler in scoring (11.7), draws more fouls and grabs more rebounds than before, and has a 15-to-7 ratio of assists to turnovers.

Archey has targeted 100 consecutive free throws. The collegiate record is 94 by Northern Kentucky's Paul Cluxton, of NCAA Division II, in 1996-97. High schooler Daryl Moreau of New Orleans De La Salle set a national record of 126 in 1978-79.

Archey is 35-of-35 in 12 games and must average 2.5 made a game to be the NCAA foul shooting champion. His career percentage (.952) exceeds figures in all divisions. But at 119-of-125, he won't finish with enough free throws to qualify for an NCAA record.

His aim is obviously accurate, and that's not what he's aiming at.

"People ask me, 'How far do you want to go?"' he said. "I'm going to the national championship game, make my free throws there, and that's it. And not miss again."

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