In an era of no Internet, very limited television and no recruiting services to turn teenage athletes into national celebrities, how does a kid from small-town Middle America become the most famous high school basketball player in the nation? By being as talented and as well-rounded as Jerry Lucas. Before there was Bill Bradley, before there was Larry Bird, there was Jerry Lucas.
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.
Isiah Thomas was one of the most heavily recruited basketball players the Chicago area has ever produced. Bob Knight landed him by winning over the person who exerted the strongest influence in Thomas’ life: his mother. Mary Thomas was an incredibly strong-willed woman who raised her own nine children and helped with scores of neighborhood kids in the notoriously tough “K-Town” area of the city’s West Side. Once she decided Indiana was the best place for her youngest, the battle was over.
Mark Spitz swam as if something was chasing him. In a sense, something was, even and perhaps most notably during a four-year period of world domination. Just 18 when he qualified for the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, Spitz was already one of swimming’s most accomplished performers, his resume packed with age-group world records, AAU titles and Pan-American and Maccabiah Games medals. He was perceived as a bit boastful, but not totally unrealistic when he suggested he just might leave Mexico with six gold medals.
John Wooden cast such a giant shadow as a college basketball coach that his comparably impressive achievements as a player are easily overlooked. Indeed, when Wooden died at age 99 earlier this year, his incomparable run of 10 national championships over a 12-year stretch at UCLA led the tributes. Seven of those titles came in succession as the Bruins became the gold standard in the college game. The period also featured an 88-game winning streak, four undefeated seasons, a 38-game NCAA tournament winning streak and a 140-2 record at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA’s home court.
An opponent once said playing defense against Ron Dayne was “like trying to tackle a Coke machine.” Or maybe like trying to interrupt a landslide. At 5-foot-10 and 260 pounds, Dayne left a trail of bodies in his wake whenever he carried the football for the Wisconsin Badgers, which was often: a Big Ten-record 1,220 times in four seasons. Combining body-builder bulk with sprinter’s speed, he was the most prolific rusher in NCAA history, piling up 6,397 yards. The total grows to 7,125 yards if bowl games are included, and they ought to be — Dayne ran for 246 yards and scored four touchdowns against UCLA and accumulated 200 yards against Stanford in Wisconsin’s back-to-back Rose Bowl victories in 1999-2000. He was voted MVP of both games, the only two-time Rose Bowl MVP in Big Ten history.
They’re at an even dozen, and next fall the Badgers will be in pursuit of a baker’s dozen. That’s right, the Wisconsin men’s cross country team claimed its unprecedented 12th straight Big Ten Men’s Cross Country Championship on Sunday in Verona, Wis. Landon Peacock took top honors, finishing the eight-kilometer race in 23:41 to pace the Badgers. Wisconsin finished with 28 team points, followed by Indiana with 75 and Minnesota with 101.