Monday, October 11, 2010

Scaling the Mount

Shooters are a breed apart. It takes a different kind of cat to spend countless hours in empty gyms, often all by his or her lonesome, hoisting jumper after jumper.

You know them when you see them, the kind of basketball player often referred to as a “pure shooter.” They often have similar personality traits. Most have placid demeanors and often endured strange childhoods. Ray Allen was a peripatetic Army brat. Steve Kerr was the son of an academic who was assassinated while serving as president of the American University of Beirut.

Then there is Rick Mount. One of basketball’s first prep prodigies, Mount was an Indiana legend from the small town of Lebanon. He seemed to be interested in nothing except perfecting his jump shot, taking care from an early age to get in his 400 shots daily. He landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school senior in 1966 and went on to Purdue.

Watching silent footage of the Boilermakers’ 75-73 overtime victory over Marquette in the 1969 NCAA Mideast Regional final at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse, it is easy to get transfixed by Mount’s game. He could be the ultimate archetype of a cold-blooded shooter.

Mount’s best moves were his one- or two-step dribbles, going to his left or right, then pulling up for the jumper. This was a master craftsman. His moves had perfect rhythm, with the dribbles getting a harder bounce to ease seamlessly into his form. Mount also had a high-arching runner in the lane, often coming off his opposite foot. His baseline fadeaway was stunning.

Mount also didn’t have a conscience, going 11 for 32 in the game and finishing with 26 points, Mount shot from 24 feet with two guys in his face. He was gunning after every ball screen he got. The misses wouldn’t deter Mount. As every broadcaster has probably uttered during his or her career, “Good shooters always think the next one is going to fall.”

It’s a good thing for Purdue that he kept shooting, because in the waning seconds of overtime he came around a screen set by center Jerry Johnson. For some odd reason, Marquette’s Jack Burke didn’t step out on Mount, who found himself all alone for from 20 feet out. Everyone in the Fieldhouse that day had to know that the ball was going in to give the Boilermakers the 75-73 victory. Purdue would advance to the championship game, where it became another victim in John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty.

Mount had an uneven professional career in five ABA seasons, averaging 11.8 points per game before injuries forced him to retire. He never lived up to being the top overall pick by his home-state Indiana Pacers, especially under defensive-minded head coach Slick Leonard. Shots were harder to come by in the pros, and the book on Mount was to not let him get open coming off screens because he would sink any open shot.

Mount made it back into Sports Illustrated in the magazine’s “Where Are They Now?” issue in 2001. It didn’t come as much surprise that, even at age 54, Mount was still getting up 500 shots a day in Lebanon, Ind.

After some failed business ventures, Mount is teaching what he knows best. He runs a shooting camp, and he sells a contraption that rebounds the ball for the solitary shooter. There’s an awesome clip of Mount instructing some kids in his driveway with one of those machines. Definitely a different kind of cat.

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