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Purdue ICONS #4: Rick Mount

The perfect jumper
The perfect jumper

With my final article before heading up to Chicago I wanted to get even on the Purdue ICONS series. After today I have three football previews and three ICONS left to write before getting into positional previews. The Ohio State and Iowa Previews will come next week with the #3 and #2 ICONS. The Indiana preview and #1 ICON profile will come the following week. It seems like as good of a schedule as any since we're almost five weeks from kickoff.

Today's ICON is on one of our basketball greats. He is a player I never saw play except in grainy old films, but his legend continues to endure. Yesterday's profile on Glenn Robinson was mostly about one season: the magical 1993-94 year when Robinson turned in one of the most dominant performances in Big Ten history. Today we feature career excellence in Rick Mount. I would probably give the last ten years off my life to have Mount's silky smooth jumper. God gives everyone gifts. Rick Mount was put on this earth with the gift of a perfect jump shot. He brought it to Purdue and took us as close as we have ever come to winning an NCAA Championship in Men's Basketball. With 606 votes, including three first place votes, Mount is the #4 Purdue ICON.

High School Career

As much as I love Purdue sports, nothing will pass my love of Indiana High School Basketball. I can't help it. It is just something in me from growing up in this state. When I was growing up it was the most pure sport around. It is no wonder that Mount represented this by becoming the first ever high school athlete featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Mount hails from nearby Lebanon, which marks about the halfway point between Lafayette and downtown Indianapolis. The secret behind his magical jumper lies in his father, Pete. Pete cut out the bottom of a peanut can and taught Rick to shoot tennis balls through it. If you can master that, shooting a basketball through a regulation hoop is easy.

As a fourth grader Mount could outshoot most freshmen in high school. He struggled with some of the other aspects of the game. By the time high school tryouts came around he was a hell of a shooter, but he couldn't make layups. His dedication and work ethic came to the fore as he went home that night and practiced all night until he had layups down.

He worked his summers as a lifeguard but shot jumpers during his time off at Memorial Park in Lebanon. He paid kids in ice cream to retrieve his shots as he honed his jumper to further perfection. It paid off for the Lebanon Tigers, as he became a sharpshooting legend. During his senior year Lebanon played Crawfordsville at Hinkle Fieldhouse and 10,000 people showed up to see him play. That earned the school enough money to buy a bus, but it was bigger that Mount dropped 57 points on the Athenians to earn the notice of SI.

The legend begins

Mount was named Mr. Basketball his senior year in a landslide. His 2,595 career points still stands as the fourth highest in state history behind Damon Bailey, Marion Pierce, and DeShaun Thomas of Ohio State. What eluded Mount was an appearance in the State Finals. As a senior Lebanon reached the Elite 8 before losing to East Chicago Washington by a point in the Lafayette Semi-State championship game. His team was upset in the sectionals as a junior, and they lost to my beloved Kokomo Wildkats in the regional when he was a sophomore.

Purdue Career:

Mount very nearly became a legend in my house the other way, as he almost went to the University of Miami for college. The Hurricanes put too much of an emphasis on football compared to basketball for his liking, so he decided to head to Purdue instead. It ended up being a wise decision, as Miami shut down its basketball program in the 70's before coming back in 1985. After graduating high school he headed to West Lafayette.

These were the days of freshman ineligibility, so we had to wait a season before he could play with the varsity squad. That didn't stop him from schooling the varsity squad. In what was the final season that Purdue played at Lambert Fieldhouse, Mount dropped 33 on the varsity during a scrimmage with 9,500 people in attendence. He would go on to average 35 points per game on the freshman team as Purdue fans eagerly awaited his varsity eligibility.

Once eligible, he did not disappoint. It took one game for him to fulfill his potential during his sophomore season. Mount scored 28 in his varsity debut for Purdue as we dedicated Mackey Arena against #1 ranked and defending National Champion UCLA. It was pretty much a day of Purdue legends as John Wooden returned to coach in Purdue's new building. The Boilers suffered a last second 73-71 loss but went from unranked to #7 after the game.

Purdue went on to have a 15-9 record that season with Billy Keller and Herm Gilliam teamed with Mount. It probably would have been enough to make the 1968 tournament if the NCAA had allowed more than one team per conference. Purdue was 10-5 against the Big Ten and did not make the NCAA Tournament, But Mount won his first two of five career games against Indiana. All told, the Hoosiers never defeated Purdue with Mount in the lineup.

A Near Championship.

The 1968-69 season is probably the best in school history. Keller, Gilliam, and Mount ran roughshod over the Big Ten and the Boilers came damn close to their first NCAA Championship. #1 UCLA won the season opener as we made a return trip to Los Angeles, but we made it close again with a 94-82 loss. We later dropped games to Arizona State and Columbia before Big Ten play, but once in conference we were virtually unstoppable. Purdue rolled to a 13-1 Big Ten record, losing only at Ohio State. The boilers were also undefeated in Mackey arena for the season. The final win was a lopsided 120-76 beatdown of Indiana on Senior Day for Gilliam and Keller.

Mount had several of his stellar games this season, scoring 45 twice against both Iowa and Michigan. This is also where the debate on how good he would be in the modern era begins. Mount played before the 3-point line, but he was known to drill several shots per game from beyond current 3-point range. Some of his records would be undoubtedly higher in today's game.

Purdue's Big Ten Championship, its first since 1940, meant a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. We were sent to Milwaukee for the Mideast Regional where we defeated Miami (OH) 91-71 and host Marquette 75-73. Mount hit the game-winner against Marquette with two seconds left in overtime to send us to our first Final Four. Once in the Final Four we defeated North Carolina 92-65 to earn a rematch with UCLA. Unfortunately, the rematch didn't go our way as UCLA won its third straight NCAA title 92-72.

It seems that God hates Purdue basketball, because injuries continue to be the story of preventing National Championships. We all know how 2010 and 2011 went in regards to that. We saw yesterday that 1994 was derailed due to the Big Dog's back strain. The 1969 title was no different. Both Gilliam and Keller played while hurt in the title game, and 7-footer Chuck Bavis broke his collarbone in the Miami game in the regionals. He would have come in handy against Lew Alcindor. It, therefore, could be argued that injuries at the absolute worst time have cost Purdue four national championships.

Purdue's numbers that year were outstanding. Mount was named a First Team All-American for the first time with 33.3 points per game (he was Second Team the year before). Purdue led the nation in scoring at 94.8 per game and Mount averaged over 40 point in the NCAA Tournament.

With Keller and Gilliam gone Mount became the focus of opponents during his senior season. Purdue still went 18-6 after going 23-5 the year before. Purdue was 11-3 in the Big Ten, but a season sweep by Iowa prevented a Big Ten championship and return to the NCAAs. It wasn't Mount's fault, either. In the 108-107 home loss to Iowa, which clinched the Big Ten title for the Hawkeyes, Mount went utterly apeshit. He nearly set a single-game Division I record with 61 points in the game (the record was 62), and video evidence shows that 13 of his made field goals would have been from 3-point range had it existed. That's a modern 74 point game, and the current record at Purdue for triples in a game is eight from Cuonzo martin and Robbie Hummel.

Big Ten ICON #9

That 61-point game is now the stuff of legend. Mount had scored 53 in previous games against Michigan and Iowa, meaning the Big Ten champ gave up an astounding 114 points to Rick Mount alone that year. The 61 and two 53 point games are still three of the four highest scoring games in Purdue history, only interrupted by a 57 point game From Dave Schellhase.

By the time he was done Mount stood alone atop the Purdue scoring record books. His 2,323 career points has still not been topped, with only Joe Barry Carroll, Schellhase, Troy Lewis, and E'Twaun Moore even coming close by cracking 2,000 career points. It stood as a Big Ten record until IU's Calbert Cheney broke it. Mount's 932 points during the 1968-69 season is second all-time behind the Big Dog's 1993-94 season. His 35.4 per game average as a senior is #1, with his 33.3 per game average as a junior is #2 on the single-season average list. If he could have played as a freshman and had he played in the modern 30+ game schedule he easily would have topped 3,000 points.

In 1970 he earned his second straight First Team All-American award, but was never named National Player of the Year. Alcindor and Pete Maravich beat him for that award in his final two seasons. Even Glenn Robinson's career average isn't with four points of Mount's 32.3.

Pro Career

So we have established that Mount virtually set the nets on fire at Mackey Arena. He hung a National Runner-Up banner, a Big Ten banner, and an All-American banner by the time he left. He would go on to establish a respectable five year pro career in the ABA with the Indiana Pacers, Kentucky Colonels, Utah Stars, and Memphis Sounds. Because the ABA had a 3-point line he thrived as a shooter. He helped the Pacers to the 1972 ABA championship with Keller before he was traded to the Colonels.

His pro career continued in Utah, featuring this great story:

According to Charley Rosen, Mount displayed the most astounding exhibition of pure, one-on-none shooting he ever saw. Rosen was invited by the Utah coach, Joe Mullaney, to participate in an intra-squad scrimmage. After Mullaney officially terminated the session, several players lingered to play HORSE. Because of Mount, the Stars' rules were unique. Shots had to be perfectly clean, counted only if the ball didn't touch the rim. Despite this wrinkle, Mount won every game. In the end, only Mount and Rosen were left on the court, and Mount was able to adjust the trajectory of every jumper so that the ball hit the inner part of the backside-rim in such a way that the ball would nudge the iron, split the net, and then bounce back to him. He supposedly could do this about 90 percent of the time.

A severely dislocated shoulder ended his professional career in 1975, meaning he never got to transition to the NBA. Since retiring he has become a teacher in the art of the jump shot. I say art because his jumper is truly a work of art. His camps involve no scrimmaging, but instead instruct players with over 2,500 supervised jumpers. His son later played for two seasons at Purdue before transferring to VCU (and gaining revenge in this year's tournament).

As I said earlier, God blessed Rick Mount with perhaps the most perfect jumper known to man. It is something that he has honed into a crafted work of art that even now, at age 64, he still can likely outshoot anyone on the planet. At his camps he regularly talks on a wireless mic while canning jumper after jumper to prove his point. To him, it is effortless now. His ICON status is secondary to the way he impacted the game with his shooting form.