DCSIMG

Archibald seeks new heights

IT IS four hours until game time, and Robert Archibald is preparing for his afternoon nap. Scotland's biggest sporting star, as defined by feet and inches, is full of nervous energy for the contest, but 40 winks is the preparation for efforts ahead.

Such has been his life of late. Play and rest. Landings and take-offs. Stops and starts. For the most lauded basketballer that Dunfermline has produced, this is the whirlwind. Time for refreshment is precious indeed.

As a new recruit to Great Britain's cause to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, Archibald's four weeks on national duty so far have been plagued by false starts. Two days into training camp in Florida, he injured an ankle and was forced to observe while team-mates were bonding on the parquet. "It was really hard to be on the outside looking on."

That distaste of merely spectating swelled during a two-year spell spent in the NBA after graduating from a stellar stint at the University of Illinois. There he was a star, but amid the game's ultimate players he was an after-thought, what Americans like to call "a scrub".

In Memphis, where he was initially drafted, then in Orlando, Phoenix and Toronto, sitting on the bench became a chore. Hence why, having laboured since he was a teen dreamer in Fife to reach that plateau, he has spent the past three campaigns plying his trade on this side of the Atlantic, resisting offers to return.

"The NBA was an amazing experience, but at 22 years old I probably didn't get as much out of it as I could have. Mentally, I wasn't ready for it, and it's a difficult transition to go from being an established college player to a guy who's at the bottom of the ladder. I didn't mind putting in the extra time, doing more shooting or weights, but it certainly got frustrating not really playing much."

European basketball is a notch below the NBA, but not that much behind, and last season he played at Joventut Badalona in Spain alongside GB cohorts Andy Betts and Drew Sullivan. Before that he was in Italy, and next month he will move to Ukraine, where he will earn a reported $1m a year from Azovmash Mariupol, a club bankrolled by a steel magnate. Constant upheaval aside, being an international gun for hire is not a bad existence, particularly when, unlike the NBA, graft on the practice court is rewarded with responsibility.

"The last three years have been great. I've enjoyed that, being out on the floor, having a role. I feel a lot more comfortable. For a lot of players, there is that question you ask of yourself. 'Do I give the NBA another try; am I okay with where I'm at?'

"The reality is there are a lot of guys who are bouncing back and forth, who are on the cusp of it. It's always a long shot to get on a roster, and to stick on a roster. It's something you look at and decide upon on a year-to-year basis, depending on how your body is feeling."

Within Great Britain's plans, Archibald figures to remain a constant. His competitive debut arrived in Birmingham last Tuesday in a 77-52 victory over Slovakia in which the 6ft 11in centre scored 14 points, and at times out-shone his much-hyped colleague, burgeoning Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng.

Ahead for Chris Finch's side are a mid-week meeting with group leaders Holland in Almere, an awkward trip to Belarus, and in between what could be a pivotal encounter with strugglers Albania at Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh, come Saturday.

Sitting second and needing to finish top to go into the play-offs, which afford promotion to Europe's elite and a near-guaranteed home berth at the London Olympics, much is at stake. This is, as Archibald concedes, a construction job.

"The identity and some of the pride is still being developed," he reflects. "The GB programme is still in its early stages. I'm in my first year. For most of the other guys, it's only their second. They may have done some stuff with England, but the GB team is new. As we continue each year and become more competitive, everything will grow."

It was at Meadowbank that Archibald played his final game for Dunfermline before moving to the US a decade ago. "It will be nice to be home," he says with a smile. The dreams may have changed since he last visited, but it is time the country awoke to the talents within.

Saturday: Great Britain v Albania, 7.30pm. Tickets available at www.basketballgb.com

 
 
 

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