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Rick Mount

Rick Mount on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Feb. 14, 1966

(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.

Picture-perfect form from “The Rocket” as Purdue christens Mackey Arena vs. UCLA, Dec. 2, 1967

“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.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Players

 

Don May

Don May scores over Lew Alcindor in the 1967 NCAA championship game.

The first post to this blog centers on all-time University of Dayton great Don May. May played at UD from 1965 to 1967, leading the Flyers to the 1967 NCAA championship game and the 1968 NIT title. A 6-4 forward, he was a consensus second-team All-American in both 1967 and 1968.

Don May was born January 3, 1946, in Dayton. It seems he was destined to attend his hometown school, for not only did UD have a long tradition of successful teams, but as a youth May delivered a Dayton newspaper to the dorms at UD.  He attended Belmont High School and was part of what Dayton Daily News writer Hal McCoy (a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame) calls “the best high school basketball team I ever saw.” May was a key component of Belmont’s 1964 state championship team, playing alongside Bill Hosket, who would go on to become an All-American at Ohio State. Belmont lost only one game that season and cruised its way to the state title, winning its state semifinal and final games by 24 and 29 points, respectively.

Entering UD in the fall of 1964,  May joined a powerhouse team led by 7-foot center Henry Finkel, a third-team All-American in 1965-66. May averaged 20.3 points and 11.4 rebounds that year (Finkel went for 22.7 and 12.1) as UD went to the NCAA Tournament. There, the Flyers defeated Miami 58-51 in the first round before losing to Kentucky 86-79 in the Mideast Regional semifinal. Finkel went to the NBA, drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round, but it turns out Don May was just getting started.

Dayton started the 1966-67 ranked 13th in the UPI poll and spent the season falling out of and bouncing back into the rankings. They ended the regular season 21-5, losing twice to a powerful Louisville squad that was ranked #2 and #3 when it defeated the Flyers. May earned second-team All-America honors by virtue of his averaging 22.2 points and 16.7 rebounds (good for fifth in the nation). Entering the NCAA Tournament, UD defeated the sixth-ranked Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the first round 69-67 in overtime, overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit. May played all 45 minutes, scoring 26 points and pulling down 20 rebounds. Next up: the eighth-ranked Volunteers of Tennessee, led by  the beefy Tom Boerwinkle and Ron Widby. The Flyers eked out a 53-52 win, with May struggling to a 9-point, 14-rebound effort. In the Mideast Regional final, Dayton squeaked by again, nipping a Virginia Tech team 71-66 in overtime. The Hokies led 62-52 late in the second half, but the Flyers rallied to force OT. May shined with a 28/16 game and won the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player award.

With that victory, Dayton was in its first and only Final Four, and Don May played a game for the ages against fourth-ranked North Carolina in the semifinal. May scored over, under, and around defenders Larry Miller (second-team All-American) and Rusty Clark, en route to sinking thirteen straight field goals (he made 16 of his 22 attempts for the game). May finished with 34 points and 15 rebounds as the Flyers had a relatively easy time (for a change), winning 76-62.

In the final game, Dayton was overmatched by the undefeated, Lew Alcindor-led UCLA Bruins. Here’s Jim Savage in The Encyclopedia of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, pg. 278:

The score was only 5-0 after 3:24; it was still only 8-4 after seven minutes. Four minutes later, with the score 20-4, Dayton finally got its third field goal when Alcindor was called for goaltending (he already had four clean blocks to his credit). The score was 76-47 UCLA when the last Bruin starter went to the bench, allowing the Flyers to close the margin to a respectable 79-64 by the end of the game.

May finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, but he shot only 9 of 23 from the field; for the game, the Flyers were a woeful 34% on their FG attempts. Still, May was named to the All-Tournament Team for 1966.

Fans expected great things from the 1967-68 Flyer squad, and why not?  The team had its best player and most of the rest of the roster back, and it had gone to the Final Four the previous year. Voters agreed, ranking UD sixth in the preseason polls. But the Flyers got off to a more than rocky start; after 16 games, their record stood at a embarrassing  7-9. Led by May and Bobby Joe Hooper, the team got hot, reeling off 10 straight wins to finish the season 17-9 and earning an NIT berth. Playing at Madison Square Garden, which was in the first year of its current configuration, the Flyers rolled over West Virginia, sneaked by Fordham and Notre Dame (the latter in OT), and won their second NIT title in seven years over a Kansas team led by All-American Jo Jo White, 61-48. May was named the MVP of the tournament.

For the 1967-68 season, May averaged 23.4 points and 15.0 rebounds and earned second-team All-American honors for the second year in a row.

May was chosen  by the Knicks in the third round of the 1968 draft but found it hard to get much playing time on a team with forwards like Bill Bradley and Dave Debusschere, though he did get a ring as a member of the Knicks’ 1970 NBA championship squad (as did his old Belmont teammate Hosket). After that season, May was selected by the Buffalo Braves in the expansion draft, and in 1970-71, he was a starter for the new franchise. He averaged 20.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in about 35 minutes a game for the Braves–who promptly traded him to the Atlanta Hawks after the season. This began the vagabond phase of May’s pro career; he played for three teams in the next four years, never approaching the output he had with Buffalo. Over his eight-year NBA career, May averaged 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. He retired after the 1974-75 season.

May was elected to the University of Dayton Athletic Hall of Fame in 1974 and to the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Don May was the best player in the history of the University of Dayton basketball. Henry Finkel may have averaged more points per game, Bill Uhl may have averaged more rebounds per game, and Roosevelt Chapman may have scored more points in his career–but May is still the greatest Flyer of all time. (ESPN’s College Basketball Encyclopedia named Chapman UD’s greatest player. With all due respect — um, no.) His 1,980 points are second in school history, as are his 1,301 rebounds.  And he did all this as a 6-foot-4 power forward. With no three-point line. His jumping ability was outstanding, but May was especially noted for his “bounce,” the ability to jump quickly and well two or three times in a row. He was an outstanding shooter both from the field and the line. May was one of only three Flyers ever to earn All-American honors twice.  But most importantly, May led Dayton to its two best back-to-back seasons: its only Final Four and an NIT title. Statistical greatness and team success–those are what make Don May the greatest Flyer ever.


 
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Posted by on March 16, 2011 in Dayton, Players