"If I had it to do over, I'd go to the NBA," Rick says. "The Lakers were interested. Signing with Indiana was the worst thing I ever did."
The Lebanon and Purdue offenses had been cut to fit him like the James Dean jeans he favored (James Dean, guard., Fairmount, Ind., class of '49). His job had been to fire the ball whenever he thought he ought to; now Leonard wanted a defensive specialist, a ballhandler, a playmaker. The Rocket wound up grounded on the bench, a disappointment to himself, his town, his fans, his family. Rick remembers many nights of driving home from the Coliseum at 115 miles an hour.
The Pacers finally traded him to Dallas, and Dallas traded him to Kentucky, where his job was to pass off to Dan Issel. He had later stints with the Utah Stars and the Memphis Sounds before the shoulder separation finished his career in 1975. He came home to Lebanon and found that all those jump shots didn't amount to anything of real value. Rick Mount was a curiosity, the greatest Johnny One-Note in basketball history. In 1978 he got an offer from the Houston Rockets. He turned it down because he was sick of traveling. "Maybe I should have taken it," he says now. "But I just couldn't get back on those planes." He never did like planes.
He was rejected for a high school coaching job because he had never graduated from Purdue. Several bad investments wiped out his small fortune, and now it is important to him that Rich win a college scholarship. Today Rick works for The Athlete, a sporting goods store in Lafayette. He sells basketballs with other people's names on them.
If he boycotts Tiger reunions because some of his classmates were jealous, well, they were. If he feels cheated because he never got his chance to thrive in pro ball, well, he didn't. What bothers him most, perhaps, is that after all the thrills he brought to his hometown, Lebanon could never leave him alone.
"There's some Rick Mount haters in this town," Rick says. "And there's some Rick Mount likers. Everybody's got their own opinion, but you just can't listen to everybody's opinion; it'll drive you nuts. If you're a good athlete, they're going to put you in a little glass case. You just have to be nice to everybody." He shrugs. "I made my niche. I guess I was considered the greatest shooter to ever live. Al McGuire said that. John Havlicek said that. I'm enjoying life now. I'm starting to come back."
Rick has refused to go to a lot of Lebanon games over the years, but he had a good reason to go to last year's games—Rich. "If he grows up to be my size, watch out. Katy, bar the door," says Rick. "I thought, for the pressure, Richie had a super year last year. When the redshirt deal started, I told him, this is the best thing that ever happened to you. If you find out you can deal with this kind of pressure, you've learned something."
Yes, the redshirt deal....
Four years ago, when Rich was 12, the Mounts began to feel he needed an extra year to grow. "I was kind of immature, not mature enough yet to be with my class," says Rich. "Even last year, I'd go in a game and they'd be yelling 'Babyface' or 'When you gonna start shaving?' "
Two years ago, Rick and his wife, Donna, decided that it would be best to redshirt their 14-year-old son for a year—in other words, to put him through the eighth grade one more time. Now they figured it would improve his chances of winning a major college scholarship. If his name had been Smith or Jones, this might not have caused a fuss. Pete and Rick had both been held back a year (for reasons of health), and other young Hoosier basketball players were redshirted with some regularity. But this boy's name was Mount, and in Lebanon that name can never be ignored. Also, maybe Rick was just a little too honest about his reason for redshirting Rich. Whereas the parents of most redshirts sang sad songs about the socio-academic needs of their boys, Rick Mount admitted that the point of redshirting little Rich was to make him a better ballplayer. Period.