Almost simultaneously last Saturday night, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. and near the banks of the Wabash in West Lafayette, Ind., Calvin Murphy and Rick Mount, respectively, American folk heroes before they ever got out of high school, started their college varsity basketball careers. Both were surrounded by the kind of hoopla and razzmatazz that used to be associated with the launching of great oceangoing liners. No one would have been too surprised if champagne bottles had been broken over their heads before they ran out onto the courts for the first time. Murphy, the 5'10" guard from Norwalk, Conn., had averaged 49 points a game with the Niagara freshmen. He could actually dunk the ball; he twirled a baton at home games of the Buffalo Bills. Mount, the blond, 6'4" guard from little Lebanon, Ind., had averaged 35 points a game for Purdue's freshmen. He was All-Indiana three straight years in high school and the state's Mr. Basketball in 1966.
Such heralded debuts easily could have turned into disasters, with the huge puffs of publicity punctured and leaking phony reputations all over the place. But Murphy and Mount, both playing in losing causes, proved on this special Saturday night that their high repute was merited. Their mamas will have to lay in new supplies of scrapbooks.
The amazing Calvin scored 41 against Long Island University. Rick hit 28 against national champion UCLA as he and his talented teammates came within a silly millimeter of upsetting the Lew Alcindor-led Bruins. And he did it with an awkward metal plate in one of his all-star low cuts.
On the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, the combination of Mount's debut, the appearance of Alcindor and Co. and the unveiling of the $6 million Purdue Arena attracted a horde of writers and broadcasters from the big cities and the alfalfa fields. There were reporters from the
Los Angeles Times
Bluffton News-Banner, the
La Porte Herald-Argus and so on, right down, or up, to the
Lebanon Reporter (of course)—30 papers in all, plus live color TV to Indianapolis and L.A., four radio broadcasts, a legion of photographers and four cameramen filming for TV news shows. All 14,123 seats had been taken for the season, including almost $9.000 worth by Lebanon people, some of whom had never missed one of Rick's games. With all the clickety-clacking, whirring, play-by-play yakking, band music and cheering, it was a wonder John Purdue didn't wake up in his grave over by University Hall.
He would have enjoyed the spectacle. Rick Mount came out on that stained-gray maple floor and you could see those happy Lebanese over in section 13 counting his warmup shots, right up to 27 out of 46, most of them long jump shots. Very few people in the world throw in long jumpers like Rick Mount. Calvin Murphy maybe, and a few fellows in the pros. Pleased as the home folks were to see The Rocket, as some call him, playing for Purdue, 39 miles from Lebanon, they worried about Rick's handicap.
Mount injured himself on October 27, at the end of the second week of practice, breaking the fifth metatarsal bone, attached to the little toe of his left foot. If it had been his right hand that was broken, Coach George King would have thrown himself off the top of the Veterinary Research Animal Housing Facility, which, contrary to campus rumor, is not where the football players live. Rick's foot was put in a cast, and he missed more than three weeks of practice.
It is common for such an injury to cause a victim pain for six to nine months, meaning Mount will be bothered all season and beyond. When he returned to workouts, the Purdue trainer and a local orthopedic surgeon supplied him with an aluminum innersole that took away about 90% of the foot's flexibility and kept the mended metatarsal from "wiggling around." Mount hobbled up and down the court like a semicripple and lost much of his spring, but in experiments without the metal plate he could not last five minutes even in simple drills.
Coach King prepared his team beautifully for UCLA. Because Mount had missed so much practice, he installed a simple offense that provided perimeter shots for Rick and two fine juniors, Herm Gilliam and Bill Keller. Rick made 11 of 27, and Gilliam, the best all-round player on the floor, made 10 of 17. On defense, King had his 7' sophomore, Chuck Bavis. and 6'6�" Roger Blalock play in front and in back of Alcindor and ordered them to keep the ball away from him at all costs. They did a good job; Lew received very few passes. A zone defense helped Mount, who could not backpedal. He would have been helpless playing man-to-man. Also, the Boilermakers applied their own version of UCLA's feared full-court zone press, forcing 10 Bruin turnovers in the first half.
Rick was red hot at the beginning, and UCLA's senior forwards, Mike Lynn and Edgar Lacey, both returning after layoffs of a year, looked rusty. They did not zoom to the boards for the rebounds. UCLA Coach Johnny Wooden pulled them out of the game and did not put them back in until near the end. Before they knew it, the Boilermakers led 33-26. That seven-point margin was the farthest UCLA had been behind in 31 games, or since Lew joined the varsity.
The Bruins, led by Guard Lucius Allen, regained the lead by half time and went ahead by as much as 12 in the second half before Purdue, accompanied by the loudest din since D-day, went on an astonishing streak during which it outscored UCLA 15 to 4. Mount hit a jump shot to make it 68-71, and Gilliam scored on a right-hand hook against Alcindor to make it 70-71. The mighty Bruins, who were supposed to waltz undefeated to three consecutive NCAA titles, were on the ropes.