Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Scotland native finds American success

Robert Archibald was always a little different.

Had he been born somewhere else — say, New York — he still would have been a rarity due to his height, but his predilection toward basketball wouldn’t have seemed the least bit out of place.

Instead, Archibald, who grew up 15 miles from the world-famous St. Andrews golf course, was “that big kid who didn’t hit the links.”

“I was too tall for golf early on,” said Archibald.

Good thing he worked on his drop-step.

When he first arrived in Champaign in 1998, Illinois senior forward Robert Archibald had a paltry 205 pounds stretched over his 6-foot-11 frame.

He experienced a bit of hoops culture shock when he moved to Missouri in 1998, as he had to adjust to the level of play in the United States, which is a few notches above what he encountered in his native Scotland.

Early on at Illinois, he often looked unsure of himself and his abilities, rarely asserting himself at the offensive end of the floor, and was certainly not the dominating force that some felt he had the potential to be.

Over three years later, Archibald, now confident and nearly 50 pounds heavier, has become a crucial part of a 10th-ranked Illini squad that is thought by many to have a very realistic shot at a Final Four berth.

Moving from Scotland to the United States, Archibald had to deal with the difficult transition from stardom to obscurity. Although basketball in Europe does not have the high visibility of sports like soccer, skiing, and golf, Archibald was one of the premier players in the nation.

He played on six different teams during his high school tenure and started for the under-23 national team at age 17. In 1997, Archibald’s various teams won nine separate championship titles, and he was recognized for his accomplishments when he was named the under-18 national player of the year and received the Principles Award for Sportsman of the Year.

After Archibald’s junior year of high school, his father received a job offer in Missouri. The job opportunity, combined with a chance for Archibald to test his game in the difficult college ranks of the United States, was enough to convince the entire family to move to Ballwin, Mo.

Archibald, despite all his European success, struggled initially after his move to Missouri, mainly because of the increased level of play he encountered.

“I think the high school team that I played on [in Missouri] could have beat most of the men’s teams in Scotland,” Archibald said. “The U.S. game is faster-paced and more physical. Obviously, there’s a ton more athletes here.”

Archibald averaged 10 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in his only season at Lafayette High School — hardly stellar numbers for a high school player who stood nearly seven feet tall. Nonetheless, his size, soft hands, and agility made him an attractive target for some major college basketball programs.

Ultimately, it came down to a choice between the in-state Missouri Tigers and the Illini. Archibald chose to skip town and head north to Champaign.

“I just really felt good about the coaches, and the future that we could have here,” Archibald recalled. “I felt that we could have a very good team, potentially, my junior and senior years, and I think that’s worked out for the most part.”

Over the four years he’s been at Illinois, Archibald has dedicated himself to improving his game, and the strides he has made are quite evident. Archibald, who shot only 39 percent during his freshman season, has seen his point totals rise each year. He averaged 3.0 points per game in his freshman year, 3.4 his sophomore season, and 7.2 in his junior campaign. This season, Archibald is averaging 11.6 points while shooting an astounding 65 percent from the field.

The 45 pounds that the 250-pound Archibald has put on since his arrival in Champaign have certainly been invaluable. The lanky Archibald, who used to get pushed around by Big Ten fours and fives, now appears to be comfortable on the low block. His added bulk and strength have helped him create space to get his shot off, and he has passed well out of double teams, getting the ball to perimeter threats Cory Bradford and Frank Williams.

But it seems to be his increased confidence, more than anything, that has helped Archibald — whom many scouts now consider an NBA prospect — take his game to the next level.

“Arch is a great player,” said Illini head coach Bill Self. “Arch is smart, Arch is strong, he’s athletic, he’s nasty, he’s got good touch, he can make free throws, he can pass. He can do a lot of things. I think about the middle of last year he started to get confident enough to put the whole thing together. I think he’s one of the best low-post players around, period.”

Archibald echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“I think my confidence has picked up. Once I had a little bit of success, I’ve been able to build on it. I think it’s more of a gradual progression, and once you get some confidence you can do some more things.”

While Archibald’s hard work is certainly responsible for much of his success, injuries to fellow big men Lucas Johnson and Damir Krupalija, along with the departure of Marcus Griffin and Sergio McClain have forced Archibald to take on an expanded role down low.

“Last year there was no pressure on Arch,” said Self. “If he wasn’t playing good, you could always put Brian [Cook], Marcus Griffin, or Damir [Krupalija] back in. This year he’s got to produce for us to win. So I do think there’s more pressure, but I think players operate best when there’s pressure.”

Archibald has no problem performing in pressure situations, as he proved during the Illini’s Elite Eight game against Arizona in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Archibald exploded for 25 points on 6-7 shooting, ripped down seven rebounds, and was a force at the line, converting 13 of 15 free throws.

This season, he had big games in tough road losses to Maryland and Arizona. Against the Wildcats, he scored 14 points, shooting a perfect 3 for 3 from the field, and hit eight of 10 free throws. At Maryland’s Cole Field house, he scored only eight points but grabbed 10 boards, dished out three assists, and blocked two shots.

Archibald continues to bolster his draft status this season with his impressive shooting and toughness, which his team now requires of him.

“It’s a new role for me,” Archibald said, “having to put a little more pressure on myself to make sure the rebounding numbers are there, make sure the point production is there. But since the start of the Big Ten season, I think I’ve handled it pretty well.”

Archibald hasn’t seemed to have problems handling much of anything thrown his way during the five years he’s spent in America. His tireless work at bulking up and improving his game are some of the major reasons the Illini are primed to make another run into the Tournament.

And Illinois players, coaches, and fans are certainly thankful that Archibald, the basketball player who hails from the land where golf was invented, was just a bit different.

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