(This one’s for my buddy George.)
Before there was Jimmy Chitwood, there was Rick Mount — a Midwestern schoolboy star whom you would swear was a myth if only you hadn’t seen him play.
Born January 5, 1947, Rick Mount was a schoolboy hoops legend in a state whose history is packed with such phenoms. Said to have had “the most perfect jump shot” anyone had ever seen, could score from anywhere (though he professed a love for the right baseline). The 6′ 4″ Mount grew up in Lebanon, Indiana, about 20 miles northwest of Indianapolis. He led Lebanon High to basketball heights not seen since Rick’s dad led the team to the state finals in 1943. Over his 94-game scholastic career, Mount averaged 27.3 ppg, for a total of 2,595 points — a figure that placed him second on the state’s all-time scoring list when he graduated in 1966, and that exceeded the great Oscar Robertson’s total by an astounding 770 points. In his senior year, Mount led Lebanon to the state semi-finals and won Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball” for his accomplishments.
Mount became more than just a “local hero,” however. That winter of 1966, he became the first high-school team sport athlete to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. His graduation also set off an unprecedented recruiting war, the fiercest competitors being Purdue, Duke, Kentucky, and Miami (FL). Mount originally committed to play for the Hurricanes, but the subsequent furor from dumbstruck Hoosiers prompted his reconsideration, and Mount agreed to attend Purdue, just a forty-mile trip up I-65.
“The Rocket” didn’t disappoint the faithful. In his first varsity game, on Dec. 2, 1967, the Boilermakers hosted defending champion UCLA as they inaugurated Mackey Arena (still the home court for Purdue). Mount went for a game-high 28 points, but he missed a last-minute jumper with score tied at 71; Lew Alcindor rebounded the miss, and two passes later Bruin Bill Sweek hit an 18-footer as the buzzer sounded (his only points of the game). In the 1967-68 season, Mount, along with teammates Herm Gilliam and Billy Keller, led Purdue to a 15-9 mark (9-5 in the Big Ten, good for third place). Mount averaged 28.5 ppg to lead the Big Ten and finish sixth nationally; he was named to the All-Big Ten First Team and was a consensus third-team All-American.
The peak of Mount’s Purdue career came when he was a junior, in the 1968-69 season. “The Rocket” averaged 33.3 ppg to again lead the Big Ten (he finished second nationally to Pete Maravich); he was a consensus First-Team All American; and he was chosen Big Ten Player of the Year. Most importantly, however, Mount helped Purdue earn its first NCAA tournament berth ever. The Boilermakers went 13-1 in league play, waxing second-place Illinois and Ohio State by a full four games. Their only conference loss: 88-85 at Ohio State. Overall, Purdue finished 23-5 and led the NCAA in scoring at 93 ppg. In their final regular-season game, Purdue blitzed Indiana 120-76, setting a still-standing school record for points in a game.
As Big Ten champs, Purdue got a bye in the first round of the 1969 NCAA Tournament. In the Mideast Regional Semis, they steamrolled Miami (OH) 91-71, as Mount scored 32. Next up: Marquette in the Regional Finals. Mount didn’t play well, hitting only 11 of his 32 shot attempts and finishing with 26 points — but he hit the game-winning basket as time expired in overtime; Purdue won 75-73 and moved on to the Final Four. There, in the national semis, they smoked North Carolina 92-65, putting the game away with a 53-30 second-half rout. Mount was back on his game, hitting half of his 28 shot attempts and ending the contest with 36 points.
The victory over UNC meant a rematch with defending champion UCLA in the finals. Purdue opened the ’68-’69 regular season with a 94-82 loss to the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion, the back end of a home-and-home series that began with the first game at Mackey the previous season. Mount had 33 points as Bruin Kenny Heitz was helpless against “The Rocket’s” barrage. The NCAA final game would be a much different story — except for the outcome. In his final collegiate game, Lew Alcindor scored 37 points (24 in the first half) and pulled down 20 rebounds as the Bruins pasted Purdue, 92-72. Heitz didn’t score in the finals — but it was his defense on Mount that propelled UCLA to victory. Mount finished with 28 points, but most of them came in “garbage time” late in the second half, as Heitz hounded him into a 12-for-36 shooting night, including 14 misses in a row. The greatest season in Boilermaker basketball history ended in disappointment, but nobody could blame Rick Mount.
The 1969-70 season, Mount’s senior year, saw the local hero elevate his game even further. He averaged 35.4 ppg, third in the nation behind Maravich (again!) and Notre Dame’s Austin Carr, and he again won Big Ten POY and First-Team All America honors. (The 1969-70 First-Team All Americans had to be the highest scoring such quintet in history: Maravich [44.5 ppg], Mount [35.4], Dan Issel [33.9], Calvin Murphy [29.4], and Bob Lanier [29.1]. Carr averaged over 38 a game and had to settle for Second Team honors.) Further, Mount set a Big Ten record (as yet unmatched) with 61 points in 108-107 home loss to Iowa. “The Rocket” averaged a record 39.4 ppg in Big Ten games during the ’69-’70 season, a record unlikely to be broken, even in this three-point-shot era. The Boilermakers, however, couldn’t repeat the previous year’s success. They went 18-6 overall, and 11-3 in the Big Ten (two losses to Iowa and one to ninth-place Northwestern) — but the Hawkeyes won all fourteen of their league games, and for the second time in Mount’s three seasons, Purdue played no postseason games.
Rick Mount finished his Purdue career as the school’s, and conference’s, all-time leading scorer. His 2,323 points have since been surpassed by other league stars (Calbert Cheaney holds the record with 2,613, but in four seasons), but his career average of 32.3 ppg hasn’t. That figure still stands as the seventh-highest in NCAA Division I history. Mount also took Purdue to its first NCAA tournament, and to the furthest point in the tournament that it’s ever gone.
Jimmy Chitwood, meet Rick Mount.