Sinatra had his voice, Hendrix had his guitar, and Rick Mount had his jump shot. Sinatra’s smooth-as-velvet singing and Hendrix’s pyrotechnic playing likely generated more worldwide fame and fortune, but it’s doubtful either man had more mastery of his instrument than Mount did any time he had a basketball in his hands, anywhere in a gym. He averaged 32.3 points per game and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor over his three varsity seasons at Purdue from 1967-70. If there was a layup among his 910 career buckets, no one readily remembers. And this was before the advent of the three-point line.
“Rick Mount is just a phenomenal shooter,” Marquette coach Al McGuire said after a Mount jumper broke his heart in the 1969 Mideast Regional final. McGuire was speaking for an entire generation.
Young Rick developed a precocious shooting eye when his father Pete, a former high school standout, cut out the bottom of a coffee can, hung it up and let Rick flick tennis balls at it on the back porch of their Lebanon, Ind., home. He later honed his technique on the courts at Memorial Park, developing a 500-shots-a-day regimen that he never abandoned.
By the time he entered high school, Mount was advanced enough to start on the Lebanon varsity as a freshman. He would average 27 points per game over his 94-game high school career, never once failing to reach double figures. In his senior season, he went for 57 in a game against Crawfordsville that drew 10,000 fans to Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. He was voted Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, and Sports Illustrated magazine featured him on its cover.
In many ways Mount was the prototypical Indiana ballplayer, a small-town kid with a deadly shooting eye and a passion for the game that matched his talent. Imagine, then, the shock and consternation when he said he’d be leaving his basketball-crazy state to go to college. In time, though, Mount realized high-level hoops would be unattainable at Miami, so he enrolled at Purdue, just 37 miles up the highway from Lebanon, to play for coach George King.
Boilermaker fans were happy to see him. More than 9,500 turned out to watch him debut with 33 points for the Purdue freshman team in a scrimmage against the varsity. Mount’s 35-point average in 14 games with the freshman team merely whetted appetites for what was to come.
He made his varsity debut against top-ranked UCLA and All-American Lew Alcindor in a game that also christened Mackey Arena, the Boilermakers’ new home. The Bruins won 73-71, but Mount scored 28 points and set the tone for a sophomore season in which he’d average 28.4 as the Boilermakers went 15-9.
With Billy Keller, Herm Gilliam, George Faerber and Chuck Bavis joining him in the starting lineup for his junior year, Mount averaged an eye-popping 33.3 points per game and 35.2 in Big Ten play, leading Purdue (13-1) to the conference championship. His version of “The Shot” occurred in the final seconds of overtime against Marquette in the Mideast Regional final in Madison, Wis. Mount drove to the deep right corner, rose above two defenders and feathered in a classic Rick Mount jumper as time expired, sending the Boilermakers to the Final Four with a 75-73 victory.
Mount had 36 in Purdue’s 92-65 semifinal win over North Carolina, but UCLA had too much Alcindor and rolled to a 92-72 victory in the title game for its third straight national championship and fifth in six years despite Mount’s 33 points. He made first team All-America and won the Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball as Big Ten MVP … and his senior year was even better.
Imagine a 39.4-point scoring average in Big Ten games and a 35.4 mark for the season. Mount reached 53 points twice, in a loss to Iowa and a win over Michigan, and went for a conference-record 61 in a rematch with the Hawkeyes. Purdue researchers later concluded he’d have scored 74 points in that game had there been a three-point line.
He repeated as first-team All-America and Big Ten MVP. Finishing with 2,323 points and a 32.3 career average, Mount obliterated the records set by the high-scoring likes of Terry Dischinger and Dave Schellhase at Purdue.
Despite the absence of three-point line and a shot clock, college basketball was a more freewheeling game in Mount’s day—the Boilermakers averaged 93 points a game and surpassed 100 six times during his junior season. LSU’s Pete Maravich would score more and Niagara’s Calvin Murphy would score roughly as many, but Mount (.483) had a higher shooting percentage than the .438 mark his fellow gunners shared. Mount also played on better teams during his college career; Purdue was 56-20 with one Final Four trip in his three seasons. Maravich was 47-33 with one NIT appearance at LSU, and Murphy was 45-32 with one NCAA berth at Niagara.
Mount understood that his shooting ability was a gift, but he was proud of the work he’d put in to develop it, and he had a rather simple explanation for it.
“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.”
Once again, Rick Mount was dead-on accurate.