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I don't want to write this. I feel like I should because many of you are too young to remember Arch and I want to tell you about him, but I really don't want to write this. How do you properly eulogize someone you didn't know but who was part of your life?
This is a devastating moment for his family and friends, and my "this is such a gutpunch" feeling falls so far short of that. The effect his passing has on me is completely insignificant compared to those who knew and loved him. I've struggled all evening with wondering whether I should even write something.
I decided to write because there are younger fans who might not remember him and I think it's important to talk about who he was and what he meant to Illinois Basketball. I don't want this to be a researched piece - that feels impersonal. I think it's best to just tell you what I remember.
Robert Archibald first came on my radar when Illinois was recruiting him. Any time there's a player from St. Louis choosing between Illinois and Missouri, you'd better believe it's on my radar. As I recall he was a very late addition to the 1998 recruiting class. He had kind of come out of nowhere that senior season at Lafayette HS in suburban St. Louis (same high school as Tyler Griffey and baseball player Ryan Howard), and had offers from Illinois and Missouri. He picked Illinois and became the final addition to that recruiting class.
When he arrived, he was really skinny. This tall, skinny big man from Scotland via St. Louis who got pushed around a lot as a freshman. I remember that some of my first arguments online about Illinois basketball - on the old Big Ten Fan Forums, I believe - were arguments about how Arch was too lanky to ever contribute in the Big Ten. It probably won't surprise you that I took the "give him a few years to add some bulk and watch out" position.
I wrote a few articles in the offseason about how 1998/99 to 1999/2000 could be a good comp for this basketball team. That team went from 14-18 one year to 22-10 the next with the additions of Frankie Williams (eligible after having to sit out as a freshman for academics), Marcus Griffin, and Brian Cook. Those guys, along with Cory Bradford and Sergio McClain, were the stars of that team, but the identity came from the bigs off the bench: Lucas Johnson, Damir Krupalija, and Robert Archibald.
Actually, the way I remember it, Arch wasn't really "off the bench" in 1999/2000. He split starting minutes with Marcus Griffin. It was in 2000/01 that the "identity" was found - Frank, Cory, Serge, Cook, and Griffin started with the brute squad (Lucas, Damir, and Arch) off the bench. That team lived off the finesse of Frankie and Cook and the muscle of Lucas, Damir, and Arch. So much so that Lute Olsen worked the refs for two days before our Elite Eight matchup, telling anyone who would listen how Illinois was going to bruise his poor players in the game. It worked - the refs called 386 fouls on Illinois (it was less than that, but six Illini players did foul out). That was perhaps Arch's best game as an Illini - he lived at the line and put up 20+. But in the end, Arizona went on to the Final Four. (Our revenge would come four years later.)
With Marcus Griffin graduating, Arch then started all of 2001/02. He was a senior force. Gone was the skinny kid getting pushed around. He was replaced by a muscular, out-of-my-way-that-rebound-is-mine senior star. His season was so solid that he was picked in the NBA Draft the next spring. This is where I want to do some research and look it up but I'm going from memory here so I want to say... first pick of the second round of the draft? I DO remember wishing that the Big Ten Fan Forums were still around so I could go find the people I argued with and say "SEE? He did develop into something great."
For me and my pet topics, he was the perfect Illini.
- St. Louis guy.
- Hated Mizzou.
- Developed from skinny guy getting pushed around as a freshman to NBA draft pick as a senior.
- Hated Mizzou.
I know that he hated Mizzou because he would tweet me things like "hey @alioneye happy Mizzou Out Of The NCAA Tournament Day". I've often talked about the special bond Illini fans in St. Louis have developed around the Braggin' Rights game, so it was great to see a former player get involved in Missouri Is Evil Illini Twitter. He wasn't in St. Louis for long, but it was enough for him to pick the orange and blue and hate the black and gold, and that's all that can be asked of a St. Louisian.
I think one of the things that moved me the most tonight was searching for his name on Twitter and seeing tweets in many different languages. When the NBA didn't work out, he played overseas for a long time, and teammates from all over the world were reacting to his passing. He also played internationally (even in the Olympics), and people were discussing that as well. Twitter is awesome at a time like this - people from all over the world reaching out to talk about Arch and what he meant to them.
But again - and this is where my brain is telling me it's time to stop typing - all of that pales in comparison to what his loved ones are going through right now. My heart goes out to his teammates, his friends, and his family as they deal with this impossible situation.
Thanks for choosing the orange and blue, Arch. Thanks for setting the tone at the beginning of the greatest era of Illini basketball. I hope it's OK that I plan to continue using the phrase I've used for the last 18 years when the officiating sucks:
Foul on Arch.