EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE
This week: On Thursday, Robert Archibald was named to Great Britain's Olympic men's basketball team. A decade ago, he was making a name for himself on Bill Self's Big Ten championship squad.
Headline: Archibald already in NCAA form
Date: Nov. 17, 2001
By JIM ROSSOW
CHAMPAIGN —Figuring that 16 points, a bunch of rebounds and a couple hard fouls wasn't enough work for one night, Robert Archibald kept delivering after the Illini's season-opening win against Gonzaga.
He snuck up behind injured Lucas Johnson on the way off the court and wiped his sweaty forehead on the back of Johnson's neatly ironed white dress shirt.
"I'm just trying to make sure he washes his shirt in between games," Archibald said, only half-kidding. "Lucas is trying hard not to show it, but he's having a hard time not being able to run out there and create havoc.
"I was just trying to keep him loose and help him enjoy things."
Relaxed and happy: no better way to describe Archibald, who was back in NCAA tournament form in the UI's 76-58 runaway.
The last time we saw him, Archibald was giving Bill Walton goose bumps with his 25-point masterpiece in last season's Elite Eight loss to Arizona.
He wasn't nearly as dominant against the Zags, but he was a whole lot better than he was during the exhibition season.
Did his play leading up to Friday's opener upset Bill Self? Did Gonzaga need a haircut?
"When he yells, it means he cares about what you're doing," Archibald said. "I don't take it personally. A lot of times when he gets fired up, it gets me going.
Right on schedule
This much we know 40 minutes into the season:
— Cory Bradford is a picture of health.
— Illinois' rebounding isn't.
— The Illini don't need Frank Williams to be an All-American every night.
— The fans are into it, the Assembly Hall sounding a lot like February already.
— And Archibald's development last season wasn't a fluke.
Even if it appeared that way during the final exhibition, when he had six points and three fouls against Lincoln University.
"I'm not a big fan of playing against the exhibition teams because they're real small and real quick," said Archibald, who's real tall and, well, might not be able to beat trainer Rod Cardinal in a 100-meter dash. "I like going against guys my own size."
Gonzaga's center was 6-foot-8. If Zach Gourde had let his hair out, he might have been even taller.
"He needed to play well," Self said. "He's kind of struggled the last couple of weeks."
With his shot. With his footwork. With his conditioning. But never with his confidence.
Archibald, one of many personalities on a lively Illinois team, has developed into a presence in both the low post and locker room. He's not afraid to let a teammate have it: On Friday, he barked at Damir Krupalija after a play gone wrong. On Monday, it might be the Big Ten Player of the Year.
"If Frank's slacking, I'll tell him," Archibald said. "Everyone on this team takes it the right way because we're all after the same thing.'"
Reaching for the top
Once considered a marginal Big Ten player, Archibald will make money playing the game next year. Once an afterthought on the scouting report, he has become an emphasis.
Gonzaga guard Dan Dickau said stopping Archibald and Brian Cook was the plan, and, for the most part, the Zags defended properly.
"He took some pretty tough shots, and he hit them," Dickau said. "Nothing you can really do about that."
The 16 points marked the second most in his career. The three assists tied a career high. The 26 minutes marked the second most in four seasons. The two fouls must have been a typo.
"From the start of last year, I took a slow, gradual curve up in improvement," he said. "You get the hang of one thing, you move on to the next thing. You build your confidence as you go and expand it."
He's learned to use his left hand — and his left elbow — near the basket. He makes free throws like a point guard. He leads the Illini in scoring the last two games. This from someone who averaged 3.2 points his first two seasons.
"I don't think I'm going to be averaging 25 points a game, but I might have a couple 25-point games," he said. "I'll probably have a few single-digit games."
Not if he gets into shape, stays out of foul trouble and pretends every opponent is Arizona and every game is in March.
"I don't think what I did (against Arizona) puts more pressure on me," Archibald said. "It just makes me concentrate every game out."