In the Spring of 1996, I took my talent from Brooklyn, New York to East Lansing, Michigan; the decision was a difficult one but a smart one.
Over the past fourteen years I have heard so much chatter about the game of basketball in the lovely State of Indiana.
Living on the East Coast, you don’t hear much about their passion for the round ball.
When they talk about basketball in the State of Indiana you hear the I.U Hoosiers, Butler, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, large crowds at their high school games, and the one basketball player I had vaguely heard about but never really understood what this guy accomplished both in high school and college.
High school basketball in the State of Indiana is like a religion.
The fans are passionate, players are very good and the high school coaches are exceptional teachers.
To get an idea of what it’s all about, all one has to do is sit down and watch the film Hoosiers.
When Rick Mount was a young boy, his father Pete would cut out the bottom of a peanut can so his son could shoot tennis balls through them.
Rick Mount is arguably the greatest pure shooter in the history of basketball.
Mount was born on January 5, 1947 in Lebanon, Indiana. The teenage phenom played his high school basketball at Lebanon high school where he scored 33 PPG and was named a three-time all-american. His point total was 2,595.
During his high school career Lebanon played a game at legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University in front of 10,000 fans; Mount scored 57 points.
“Rick Mount is the one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game of basketball,” Creighton Burns, an assistant coach at Spring Arbor University told me. “His high school coach told me that he shot the ball with his fingers always placed the same way on the ball, whether off the dribble or off the shot.”
In 1966, Mount was the first male high school athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It was the same year he was named Mr. Basketball in the State.
Mount went on to play his college basketball at Purdue from 1967 to 1970. During those days freshmen were ineligible to play on the varsity team. During his varsity career Mount scored 32.3 PPG ; he was also named all-american all three years.
They called him the “Rocket” and in his first college varsity game the 6’4″ guard scored 28 points in a losing effort against UCLA. It was opening night in Purdue’s new arena. Tons of media showed up to witness the showdown. Before the game Mount injured himself in the second week of practice, breaking the fifth metatarsal bone on his left foot. His foot was put in a cast, and he missed more than three weeks of playing.
When he returned to action they put an aluminum innersole inside his shoe that took away about 90% of the foot’s flexibility. Mount struggled getting up and down the floor.
Purdue and UCLA would meet again a year later; this time for all the marbles, the NCAA championship. Once again, the Bruins came out on top. Mount scored 32 points but it was probably a game Mount would have liked to forget. Entering the contest he was scoring 33.5 PPG but struggled from the floor going 12-36. In the first half Mount managed only eight points. During one stretch of the game Mount had missed 14 straight shots.
Mount’s college coach, George King talked about Mount and Lew Alcindor;
“Rick is the best shooter I’ve ever seen or played against, but Alcindor and four grandmothers could beat you; Mount and four grandmothers couldn’t.”
Marquette witnessed Mount first hand when he hit a big time shot against them in the NCAA tournament. They simply called it “The Shot”, which occurred in the final seconds of overtime. Mount drove to the right corner, rose above two defenders and knocked down the jay in the closing seconds, sending the Boilermakers to the Final Four.
During his senior season at Purdue Mount scored 61 points against Iowa; if they played with a three-point shot Mount would have finished with 74 points. By the way, Purdue lost 108-107 at home ending a thirty game home win streak. In their previous meeting that season Mount scored 53, another Hawkeye victory.
Mount was never named College Basketball Player of the Year despite making first team all-american both his junior and senior years. There was two players by the name of Lew Alcindor and Pete Maravich. Mount was one of the M&M boys; Maravich 44 PPG, Calvin Murphy 39 PPG and Mount 38 PPG.
His legacy started in middle school; there would be hundreds of people at his games all over Boone County.
As an eight grader the varsity coach at Lebanon took Mount to a Coaches Clinic and brought him out on the court to demonstrate a shooting drill; all the young man did was knock down twenty of twenty-two outside shots in one minute.
Rick started on the Lebanon varsity team as a ninth grader and scored 20 PPG.
His jump-shot became the talk of the State.
“If I can see the basket, I can make it every time,” he said. ”If I can’t see it, 50 percent of the time.”
Of course if you are a big time high school player, a recruiting war begins.
The University of Miami travelled to Lebanon to see Mount play.
Mama Leone’s nephew, Aldo Leone showed up with the Miami coach and wanted to stage a game between Mount’s Lebanon team and Power Memorial, with Lew Alcindor. The winner would be crowned High School National champion. Tickets were printed, Hinkle was rented out but the Indiana High School Athletic Association put a stop to it.
Mount worked as a lifeguard during the summer and would work on his jump-shot at a nearby court. He’d promise a young boy an ice cream cone if the little man would rebound for him.
In 1966 Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated paid Rick a visit and wrote a feature story on the high school sensation. In the article, Mount told Deford that he had skipped a five-day fishing trip in the summer time because he thought that would be too long to be away from the game. How many players would do that today?
At the State tournament Lebanon played the semi-final game in the afternoon then had to come back at night to play the finals. In the semi’s, Mount led his team back from a 12 point deficit with eight minutes to play. All Mount did was score 20 points and lead his team to the come from behind victory. Mount scored 47 of the team’s 65 points. Later that night Lebanon lost by one point in the finals; Rick had developed cramps during the game.
Mount came very close to attending the University of Miami; but after being told that the folks in Lebanon would not be too happy about his decision, he changed his mind and instead signed a letter of intent to Purdue.
Here’s a cool tidbit, thanks to Coach Burns; Mount’s point guard in high school Jeff Tribbett, was also the point guard for Pete Maravich at LSU.
After a fantastic career at Purdue Mount was drafted number one overall by the Indiana Pacers of the ABA. The LA Lakers also showed some interest but he elected to sign with the Pacers for $750,000.
“If I had it to do over, I’d go to the NBA,” Mount told Sports Illustrated in an article written back in 1986.
“The Lakers were interested. Signing with Indiana was the worst thing I ever did.”
He entered the ABA at the age of 24. He arrived in Indy where he teamed up with guys like Roger Brown, Mel Daniels and George McGinnis. In his rookie season Mount scored 6 PPG; well below his usual numbers in college.
During his second season with the Pacers Mount scored 14 PPG helping the Indiana to the ABA title, beating the New York Nets 4-2. The Pacers traded him to Dallas, who then sent him to Kentucky where he was able to score 15 PPG. But things didn’t work out, Mount was traded again during the season to the Utah Stars.
In 1974-75 with the Memphis Sounds, Mount had his best scoring season with 17 PPG. A shoulder injury limited him to 26 games.
The following season a hamstring injury kept him out for the entire season.
In September of 1976 Mount tried out for the Pacers but called it quits during training camp. He announced that he had lost his desire to play.
Mount’s ABA career lasted five years, he was done playing pro ball at the age of 28.
“High school legend, one of the greatest college shooters in history, but in the pros he had trouble defending and getting his shot off,” said Bob (Slick) Leonard, his coach with the Pacers.
Today, at the age of 65 Mount is conducting shooting clinics for young basketball players around the State of Indiana. When I visited the Speice Fieldhouse in Ft. Wayne for the very first time, sitting in the parking lot was a huge semi truck with Rick Mount’s name on it.
Here’s an article that describes his philosophy on shooting and his time he put in to his craft.
“I was a gym rat. I’d shoot a couple of hours a day and play at night. If I wanted to play after midnight, I had a key to the gym, so I’d go there and shoot for a couple of hours.”