Growing up in America, kids come across myths and legends of larger than life heroes. They are treated to tall tales of Wild Bill Hickok, Johnny Appleseed, and Paul Bunyan, men who perform inexplicable exploits. The fathers of Indiana's youth tell tales of a man even more amazing; a man with a more accurate shot than a Colt .45, a man who's blood flowed ice cold in the most heated situations, a man who fired from 25 feet before there was a three-point line. They are told of "Rocket" Rick Mount.
From the day Rick Mount was born on Jan. 5, 1947, he was destined to play basketball. When he was very young his father, who was a stellar basketball player in his own right, cut the bottom out of a peanut can and hung it on their back porch. Rick spent years firing countless tennis balls into the can. He shot at a regulation goal for the first time in fourth grade; by fifth grade, he was beating eighth and ninth graders. But on the first day of try-outs for the school team he could not make a left-handed lay-up. The next day he had the southpaw lay-up perfected after practicing it for hours late into the previous night. Word spread quickly around his hometown of Lebanon, Ind., and soon crowds numbering 1,000 were attending his elementary games.
At Lebanon High School, Mount continued to develop the jump-shot that soon would be famous. From his first game as a freshman until he graduated, he started and scored in double figures each time he stepped on the court.
In high school, Mount honed his jump-shot by spending countless summer hours on the court. He worked as a lifeguard, and his job required that he work an hour, take an hour off, work an hour, and so on. During his off hour, Mount would find a kid who wanted an ice cream cone on a hot day. Mount would offer to buy one in exchange for 60 minutes of rebounding his shots from the bottom of the net. More often than not, the kid would be back his next off-hour ready to rebound.
After finishing his work for the day, Mount played pick-up games on Lebanon's Memorial Park courts where players would come from all over the state to challenge him. Mount accepted all challenges, as one of his dates discovered when he abruptly ended an evening out in order to take on a group of players he did not recognize on the playground court he frequented.
Wearing number 33, he averaged 27.3 points over 94 career high school games, and finished with 2,595 points, which at the time ranked second on the state's all-time list. Some highlights included scoring 20 points while hitting seven straight shots in the fourth quarter of a game against Logansport; he finished with 47 for the game. His high school single-game high was 57 against Crawfordsville. Lebanon came within one win of making the state championship game, but lost in the semi-state championship when Mount was burdened with leg cramps. He was named the nation's best high school player by USA Basketball Yearbook his senior year. On Feb. 14, 1966 he became the first high school team athlete featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the third high school athlete overall. He was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana following his senior season.
After finishing his high school career, the 6-foot-4, 175-pound scoring machine initially committed to the Miami Hurricanes. His decision to leave the state ignited such uproar from Hoosiers obsessed with his picture perfect jumper that he changed his mind and took his signature Nelson-Rockford redheel socks with him up the road to Purdue.
Mount proved to be worth the hype in his first game in a Purdue uniform. Freshmen were not allowed to play varsity in his day, so he started his career with the Purdue freshman team. In their first game the freshmen scrimmaged the varsity before an excited crowd of 9,500 fans. Mount scored 33 points against his more seasoned counterparts on 9-of-21 shooting. For the year, he scored a freshman record 490 points while sporting his famed number 10. He averaged 35.0 points per game and shot 54.5 percent from the field.
Mount followed up his outstanding freshman debut with nearly comparable statistics his sophomore year. His Boilermaker premiere came against the defending national champion, Lew Alcindor-led and No.1 ranked UCLA Bruins in the opening of Purdue Arena, later to be renamed Mackey Arena. Mount scored a game-high 28 points, but Purdue fell 73-71.
He finished the season with a 28.4 scoring average, helping Purdue to a 15-9 season. He averaged 29.7 points in Big Ten action and was rewarded by being named first-team All-Big Ten. He was named second team All-American by the UPI, and third team by Associated Press. His first varsity season left Boilermaker fans excited for the future, and they were not disappointed.
Purdue was ranked No. 6 in the nation going into the NCAA Tournament and defeated Miami (Ohio) 91-71 in the first round. In the NCAA Mideast Regional final, Mount hit the most famous shot in Boilermaker history.
Purdue was tied 73-73 with Marquette with seconds remaining when Mount drained a deep shot from the baseline to put Purdue ahead 75-73 and to the Final Four. In the national semifinal game, Purdue took on No. 4 North Carolina. Mount scored a game-high 36 points on 14-of-28 shooting to help Purdue thrash the Tar Heels 92-65, setting set up a national championship clash against No. 1 UCLA. Purdue fell 92-72 to the Bruins, while Mount struggled to get 33 points on 12-of-36 shooting.
Mount helped the 1968-69 team finish with a 23-5 overall record, good for the most wins in school history. The team recorded six 100 point games, including a 120-76 drubbing of Indiana, still the Purdue record for most points in a single game. The squad averaged 93.0 points per game, which also remains the school standard.
Mount was lauded with accolades following the season. He was named first team All-Big Ten, Chicago Tribune Big Ten Most Valuable Player, and consensus first team All-American. His efficiency his junior year compared favorably to those of Pete Maravich and Calvin Murphy, contemporaries in feats of scoring. While Maravich and Murphy scored more per game, Mount shot far better from the field. He shot an incredible 51.5 percent, while Maravich shot 45.2 percent and Murray shot just 43.7 percent.
The following excerpt appeared in the Purdue Exponent after Mount's junior year, "Although many statistical analysis tend to be misleading, Mount's are a study in consistency. He's hardly a streak shooter, unless you want to say he's nearly always on a hot streak, but points come so easily to him that most fans can't believe the number of points he's scored in a game."
Purdue entered his senior season with high hopes and expectations. The Boilermakers began the season ranked No. 3 in the nation. Mount did his best to lead the Boilermakers to the NCAA Tournament again, but fell just short. On Jan. 3, 1970, Mount scored 53 points against Big Ten champion Iowa in a 94-88 loss. He put up 53 again on January 31 in a 116-103 victory over Michigan. A little less than two months after scorching Iowa for 53, Mount set a Purdue and Big Ten record for single-game scoring with 61 points on 27-of-47 shooting against the Hawkeyes. Later research found that if the three-point line had existed in 1970, Mount would have scored 74 points in the game. Purdue finished the 1970 season 18-6, second in the Big Ten to Iowa.
For his career, Mount was a two-time consensus All-American, two-time Chicago Tribune Big Ten MVP, and three-time first team All-Big Ten pick.
He broke Indiana center Don Schlundt's Big Ten career scoring mark with 2,323 career points. He remains Purdue's all-time scoring leader despite playing just 72 games, all without the three-point line which was instituted in 1986. He also still holds the conference scoring average record with 32.3 points per game, which is seventh all-time nationally.
Mount was drafted No. 1 overall in the ABA Draft following his senior season and signed with Indiana Pacers. He averaged 11.8 points five years with the Indiana, Kentucky, Utah, and Memphis before injuries ended his career.
To illustrate the high regard for Mount's shooting ability, Scripps Howard News Service conducted a poll of 30 current college basketball coaches and 10 former coaches, asking them to select the best outside shooter in history. The Rocket was the top vote-getter.
Number 10 led Hoosier Hysteria and Boilermaker basketball to new heights.
So it is easy to see how those who were around in Mount's time can get carried away in describing his soft jumper and scoring ability. Rick Mount is no myth. He remains a legend.