The Untouchables is a 10-part series spotlighting college basketball's most unbreakable records. Up next is No. 9: Butler guard Darnell Archey's consecutive free throw streak.
The summer before his junior year of high school, a friend invited Darnell Archey to join him and his family on a trip to the Bahamas.
"I said, 'Darnell, you need to go,' but he told me he didn't want to because there wasn't a basketball court there," Archey's father Dennis recalled. "That's how focused he was. He refused to even go on vacation."
Choosing jump shots at the gym over relaxing at the beach is an example of the dedication that eventually helped Archey shoot his way into the record books in college. The Butler guard sank a Division I record 85 consecutive free throws from Feb. 15, 2001 to Jan. 18, 2003, eclipsing the former mark of 73 set by Villanova's Gary Buchanan two seasons earlier.
No Division I player besides those two has ever hit more than 70 free throws in a row, but enough guys have cracked 50 recently that Archey believes his record will someday fall. Marquette's Steve Novak sank 68 straight foul shots in 2006 and NC State's Scott Wood (66) and Indiana's Jordan Hulls (58) each had long streaks last season.
"As they always say, records are meant to be broken," said Archey, now entering his fourth season as Butler's coordinator of basketball operations. "It may take awhile, but I think somebody will get it. With all the shooting devices and the amount of time these guys spend shooting, it's going to be broken eventually."
The player who someday surpasses the mark will have to be focused and dedicated from a young age if Archey's path to the record books is any indication.
Growing up in Steve Alford's hometown of New Castle, Ind., Archey attended all the former Indiana star's basketball camps in grade school and tried to emulate his smooth jump shot on the playground and in his neighbor's driveway. By middle school, Archey began working with his father up to six times a week, doing shooting and dribbling drills in the gym for an hour a day and going to the free throw line to make 10 or more in a row in between each one.
Dennis Archey wisely insisted that his son develop a routine at the foul line and stick with it throughout his basketball career. The younger Archey always straddled the nail holes at the foul line to make sure he was perfectly in line with the rim, dribbled three times, took a deep breath and followed through.
"People at the Y would stop and watch him because he'd go three or four minutes without missing a shot," Dennis Archey said. "Even when he was really young, it surprised me how well he could shoot."
At tradition-rich New Castle Chrysler High, Archey cemented his reputation as an elite shooter, making 96 foul shots in a row in practice as a sophomore and 40 straight during games his senior season. Long after most of his teammates went home after practices, the future second-team all-state guard would remain in the gym shooting until he'd made 25 straight free throws, sometimes even starting over if the final one touched any part of the rim.
"He would play these mental games in his mind, and I think the really, really good shooters do that," Chrysler High coach Steve Bennett said. "When you fouled him, it was automatic. It got to the point where you were surprised when he would miss one."
Archey's 6-foot, 135-pound frame scared away most major colleges during his recruitment, but Butler coach Barry Collier believed the wispy guard's sweet shooting stroke would make up for his slight stature. That decision looked shrewd four years later after Archey hit 8 of 9 from behind the arc to spark a NCAA tournament upset over Louisville in 2003, capping a successful college career in which he sank 44.3 percent of his 3-pointers and a school record 95.3 percent of his foul shots.
The idea of attempting to break the consecutive free throw mark first occurred to Archey during his sophomore year when he watched highlights of Buchanan setting the record. At first Archey figured it was a long shot, but he became more determined when he entered his senior season having already hit 41 in a row.
He caught a lucky break at Evansville in Dec. 2002 when a foul shot he thought would be well off the mark took a funny bounce off the rim, hit the backboard and went in. He tied Buchanan's record with a pair of free throws against Hawaii in the title game of the Rainbow Classic on New Year's Eve. And he broke it less than a week later at Illinois-Chicago after getting fouled while converting a layup.
"The pressure really mounted once I broke the record," Archey said. "I was talking about it a lot more. Newspapers from D.C. to Miami were calling to do interviews with me. Every time I went to the line, I didn't feel as loose as I normally did."
Archey managed to extend the record another two weeks until he was fouled with 3:42 left in the second half of a narrow victory over Youngstown State. Fatigued from playing heavy minutes and burdened by the mental pressure of the streak, Archey rattled in the first free throw but missed the second short and to the right, a rarity for a player who typically botched the front end on the off chance he missed at all.
The 7,268 fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse that day initially groaned in surprise and disappointment at the end of the streak before giving Archey a well-deserved standing ovation as he back-pedaled on defense. They erupted for Archey again when he received the game ball at mid-court after the final buzzer and attempted a ceremonial free throw at the urging of teammate Joel Cornette.
"I think I had more pressure to make that free throw than any other free throw," Archey said. "I was really nervous for that one."
Of course, Archey pushed aside the nerves, focused on the rim and drained that foul shot to the delight of the crowd. As well as he shot all season, there never should have been a doubt.
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