by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We often get in a wistful mood this time of year at THE GOLD SHEET. As another publishing season (our 54th!) gets ready to conclude next week, we inevitably tend to look back over the years and recall some of the many memories we have made since 1957. Our annual “All-Newcomer” team, which appears at the conclusion of this piece, always serves as a nice trigger for those recollections.

We have memories of all of those great newcomers we have honored over the years, from Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor in our very first All-Newcomer team in 1957, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) in 1967 to Michael Jordan (then known simply as “Mike” Jordan) in 1982. However, the college sports landscape was much different (in many ways) for the first 15 or so years we were publishing TGS, because until the 1972-73 season, freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition. They would instead compete against other all-"frosh" teams, or, in some instances, lower-level college or junior college entries. In fact, we just happened to be recalling those old frosh teams during the first week of the NCAA Tournament when chatting in Las Vegas with Bill Boyd, son of former Southern Cal HC Bob Boyd and a member of one of the Trojans’ last such and perhaps strongest-ever (along with the Paul Westphal-led side three years earlier) frosh teams, in the 1971-72 season. Bill reminded us that his Trojan frosh, which featured a future NBA All-Star in G Gus Williams and first-round draft choice in C John Lambert, lost just once that season, and that was to a JC team, Allen Hancock College, based up the coast from Los Angeles in Santa Maria.

Perhaps the most famous “frosh” team of all-time was the powerhouse UCLA “Brubabes” featuring Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar in 1965-66. Coach John Wooden had assembled a powerhouse recruiting class after his second consecutive NCAA title in 1965, with the 7-1 Alcindor, brought across country from Power Memorial in New York City, the centerpiece. Sports Illustrated, which in those days would pay about as much attention to freshman sports as it would tiddlywinks, nonetheless devoted a feature in its December 5 issue to Alcindor and his fellow frosh, right after coverage about the previous week’s biggest story, Muhammad Ali’s 12th-round stoppage of Floyd Patterson in the heavyweight title bout at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Alcindor was already big news; SI even labeled him as “the most publicized Los Angeles newcomer since Vivian Leigh was picked for the female lead in Gone With The Wind.”

Of course, Alcindor and his frosh teammates (which included other future Bruin stars such as Lucius Allen, Lynn Shackelford, and Kenny Heitz) debuted in a fashion that required national coverage. UCLA was opening its brand-new on-campus facility, Pauley Pavilion, for the 1965-66 season, and was the overwhelming preseason number one in the polls. To christen the new facility, Wooden decided he wanted to showcase his bumper crop of frosh against the defending national champion varsity Bruins. The frosh-vs.-varsity game would also be televised live to a local audience in Los Angeles. Although the varsity Bruins were a bit under-strength with G Freddie Goss missing the game due to illness, and Wooden did more substituting than he might in a normal regular-season game, the best team on the court that night was the UCLA frosh. The Brubabes more than held their own against the varsity first string, whose frontliners Doug McIntosh and Mike Lynn were almost helpless against Alcindor, who scored 31 points, snared 21 rebounds and blocked 7 shots. Allen added 16 points, lefty Shackelford (and his arching “moon balls” from deep in the corner) scored 12 more, and the Brubabes waltzed to a 75-60 win, documented as mentioned in SI. That UCLA frosh team would go on to an undefeated season, destroying most foes, and preceded a glorious Alcindor varsity era that began the next season (1966-67) when the Bruins would win the first of three straight NCAA titles with Big Lew, a streak that would grow to seven in a row for Wooden by the early ‘70s.

Wooden, by the way, temporarily ended the varsity-frosh meetings until 1970, when the next ultra-heralded UCLA frosh crop led by Bill Walton faced another defending champion Bruins team, although Walton & Co. were routed by a varsity team featuring Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe (that team, in retrospect, was much stronger than Wooden’s 1965-66 Bruins, the only UCLA squad not to win a national title in a 10-year stretch between 1964-73).

Still, when it comes to “All-Newcomer” teams, one of our favorites and always rated among the best of our such-honored squads was in the 1967-68 campaign. That year was the varsity-debut season of several then-sophomores who burst upon the college hoops scene like gangbusters. In all of our years at TGS, we don’t know if any of our newcomer teams boasted the sort of top-to-bottom firepower of that one 43 years ago, prompting us to name the first six-man “Newcomer” team after limiting it to five members in previous years. We simply couldn’t narrow the field to five that season for a team that would include Columbia’s Jim McMillian, St. Bonaventure’s Bob Lanier, North Carolina’s Charlie Scott, Niagara’s Calvin Murphy, LSU’s Pete Maravich, and Purdue’s Rick Mount. All eventually moved to the pro ranks and enjoyed productive careers; all remain icons at their respective schools, with Maravich considered in the all-time hoop legend category.

But when debut games are mentioned, we can’t recall any quite as dramatic as the one in which Rick Mount played his first varsity contest on December 2, 1967 for Purdue. In fact, after 54 years of publishing, we dare say Mount’s first varsity game is one of the greatest and most memorable hoop classics we can recall.

Making the night special almost 44 years ago was the fact that the Boilermakers would be hosting, guess who, top-ranked defending national champion UCLA, featuring none other than Lew Alcindor, then beginning his junior season for the Bruins, who were considered almost unbeatable with an even stronger and more mature team than the previous year’s 30-0 title winners. Moreover, UCLA took a 34-game win streak into the campaign, and was expected to eclipse USF’s record 60-game win streak later that season (more on how the UCLA streak eventually ended in the Astrodome vs. Houston at another time). It was also a homecoming for Wooden, a Purdue alum and long-ago All-American hoopster at the school who was a Hoosier state native, hailing from downstate Martinsville. Moreover, it would be the first game for the Riveters at their brand-new Purdue Arena (which would be renamed Mackey Arena five years later), a modern circular facility adjacent to old Purdue Fieldhouse, which still stands to this day as Lambert Fieldhouse.

On top of the opener also being the varsity debut for the heralded Mount, we hardly recall such a confluence of special factors in any college basketball game over the past half century!

Those of the modern sports generation such as Erin Andrews who can hardly believe college hoops generated much if any national attention in the pre-ESPN era are mistaken. Although TV coverage was limited to regional syndication in those days (even the NCAA Tournament had yet to secure a major network contract, which would have to wait for the 1968-69 season with NBC), it was not alone, as many sports had limited TV coverage long ago. But print journalism was vibrant, and no publication validated the significance of sporting events of the day like Sports Illustrated. And SI made sure that its crack pair of college hoops writers, Joe Jares and Curry Kirkpatrick, were on the scene for openers that night at Purdue as well as at Niagara, where the heralded Calvin Murphy was making his varsity debut for the Purple Eagles against Long Island University. The biggest game, however, was being held in West Lafayette, Indiana. Thirty different newspapers requested press credentials for UCLA-Purdue, which would also be covered by four radio broadcasts, live color TV to Los Angeles (with a young Dick Enberg doing the play-by-play for the Bruin TV network) and Indianapolis, countless photographers, and four extra cameramen filming for TV news shows.

They were all there to see the new arena, Wooden, Alcindor...and Rick Mount.

It’s hard to put into modern context the anticipation that would await the varsity debuts of can’t-miss stars in those days. As mentioned before, Alcindor had created quite a stir as a frosh at UCLA two years earlier, but he was by no means the only ballyhooed freshman star of that period who had to wait a year to play varsity ball. And among the great freshmen of that era, few can compare to Purdue’s Mount, a prolific 6’4 guard by way of nearby Lebanon, Indiana. For Mount was already a national celebrity while in high school, thanks mostly to SI, which in 1966 began to feature a supposed can’t-miss high school star on one of its covers each year. In February of 1966, that can’t-miss star was Rick Mount, thrice an All-Indiana selection while in high school and the state’s coveted Mr. Basketball winner that same 1966. Mount’s subsequent enrollment at Purdue was big regional news, and since he had gained a bit of a national following after his SI cover in high school, hoops fans across the nation followed his frosh team exploits for the Boilermakers. Mount didn’t disappoint, either, scoring 35 ppg for the Purdue frosh in 1966-67 in an era long before the three-point shot; a prolific long-range bomber, Mount’s point totals throughout his college career would probably have increased 20% or more had there been a three-point arc. His varsity debut for the Boilermakers was part of a magical 1967 autumn in the Hoosier state when, for a while, an excellent Purdue football team featuring Leroy Keyes ascended to the number one national ranking before an upstart Indiana University squad, under HC John Pont, startled the college football world by upsetting the Boilermakers in the regular-season finale, tying for the Big Ten crown and advancing to the school’s first (and still only) Rose Bowl. But the debut of “Mount Mania” at West Lafayette took a back seat to no regional sports story that year.

UCLA’s visit, with Alcindor and Wooden in his homecoming, was the source of incredible anticipation that fall in the midwest, although reports from Purdue’s preseason workouts were ominous; Mount had suffered a broken left foot in fall practice. With his foot in a cast, “The Rocket” missed three weeks of practice, and HC George King was worried he would have to face the Bruins without his new sophomore star. Doctors suspected the injury could linger for as log as six-to-nine months, but Mount was determined to play when the cast was removed in late November. The Purdue trainer and a local orthopaedic surgeon had created a special aluminum innersole for Mount’s shoe that took away about 90% of the foot’s mobility but at least would keep the broken metatarsal bone in place. Mount was limited in movement but could at least stay on the court with the contraption inside of his left shoe; without it, the pain was so great that Mount couldn’t stay on the floor for more than a couple of minutes. How much it would affect Mount during real game conditions was unknown.

When game night arrived on that Saturday, a capacity crowd of 14,123 jammed the new arena, which had already been sold out for the entire season, partly due to Mount’s presence, which had prompted nearby Lebabon folk, many of whom had never missed one of The Rocket’s games, to buy $9000 worth of season tickets. The atmosphere was electric, with the band blaring and the cheerleaders spinning and the crowd buzzing. In SI, Joe Jares wondered if all of the racket in the new arena might cause school founder John Purdue to wake up from his grave over by University Hall.

The game did not disappoint. Boilermaker HC George King was a brilliant tactician, and devised a game plan that accounted for Mount’s temporary handicap. King simplified the offense to create outside shots for Mount and junior G Herm Gilliam, who, along with another talented junior backcourt mate, Billy Keller, would eventually go on to productive pro careers as well. Meanwhile, since Mount could not backpedal defensively due to his bad foot, King employed a zone defense, knowing that Mount could not function in a man-to-man on the stop end. King also did some extra "gimmicking" when possible in the post with Alcindor, fronting him with 7’0 C Chuck Bavis and sandwiching Big Lew from behind with 6’6 F Roger Blalock. For much of the first half, those tactics helped Purdue to effectively deny Alcindor the ball. Meanwhile, the presence of the quick-handed Gilliam and Keller allowed Purdue to employ a surprising and bothersome full-court press (borrowing a page from Wooden) to help force ten UCLA turnovers in the first half.

Wooden, who had looked forward to welcoming back frontliners Mike Lynn and Edgar Lacey (who had both missed the previous season) to the 1967-68 team, was so disappointed in their play in the early going that both were sent to the bench. Meanwhile, Mount, despite the bad foot, was getting good elevation on his jump shots and sent the home crowd into delirium when banging many of them home, while Gilliam was doing the same. The Bruins, who had rarely trailed a game in Alcindor’s previous 1966-67 sophomore season, found themselves down late in the first half by a 33-26 count, a larger deficit than they ever experienced the prior campaign. The noise was deafening in the new arena, whose roof seemed about to lift from the roaring din of the crowd.

At that point, however, UCLA finally began to take control. With Big Lew finding little room to operate, Lucius Allen took over the show and paced a Bruin spurt to give Wooden’s team the lead at halftime. The crowd began to sense the inevitable as the second half commenced, with the Bruins showing their class and gradually extending the lead. Deep into the second half and having finally established Alcindor’s presence in the paint, UCLA was comfortably ahead by a 67-55 count, and the Boilermakers seemed finished.

Only they weren’t.

Led by Mount, who would score 28 points on the night, and Gilliam, Purdue found a second wind and made a dramatic rally. The Bruins suddenly became rattled as the big crowd came to life, roaring as the Boilermakers, astonishingly, began to chip away at the double-digit margin. Having cut the deficit to five at 71-66, it was Mount again playing Superman, drilling another long-range jumper to pull Purdue within three, and when Gilliam made a running hook shot over Alcindor shortly thereafter, the margin had incredibly been cut to one. The next time Purdue had the ball, there was less than a minute to play, the score was 71-70, and the Boilermakers could shoot for the lead...and the win!

Mount was of course the man most likely to take the shot, and was given what seemed an incredible gift with 29 seconds to play when fouled by the Bruins’ Lacey, who was so miffed at the call that his vehement gesture of protest to the referee was additionally punished with a technical foul. Mount would thus potentially have three free throws, and Purdue would also be getting possession after the technical free throw, with under 30 seconds to play. All was suddenly in place for a remarkable upset to begin the 1967-68 campaign.

The one-and-one foul shots came first, but incredibly, Mount missed the front end, denying him the second free throw. He still had the technical to shoot, however, and converted that one to level the score at 71, and Purdue would be getting the ball after the “T” with a chance at the last shot. The big crowd at the new arena was still in a state of delirium as this epic battle was coming down to a pulsating conclusion.

Again, Mount was the man with the ball, although he was being guarded closely by Bruin reserve guard Bill Sweek, known more for his physical defense than his offensive finesse. Dribbling to the right corner with the game clock winding down, Mount let loose with a jump shot that missed. The Bruins rebounded and had just enough time to get up court for a potential shot at victory, where it would be the backup Sweek, of all people, who would cast a desperation shot, straight away, from about 28 feet. Sweek, who had earned UCLA hero status the season before when bailing out the Bruins with a succession of steals against a valiant Southern Cal side at the Sports Arena in the Trojans’ first of three infamous slowdown games (don’t call it a stall around Bob or Bill Boyd) against Wooden, found nothing but net on his long jumper. UCLA had dodged the proverbial bullet while escaping with a 73-71 win, its win streak then at 35 games and top national ranking still intact. The magnitude of Purdue’s heroic effort was highlighted by subsequent Bruin efforts that saw UCLA win its next ten games by no fewer than 28 points.

It would not be the last time Mount would run into Alcindor and the Bruins. The teams would meet in a return match the next year at Pauley Pavilion, with UCLA prevailing 94-82, and again in that season’s NCAA title game in March of ’69 at Freedom Hall in Louisville. Mount would hit his first two shots in that game, but eventually was flustered by another unsung Bruin, Kenny Heitz, who blanketed The Rocket until the outcome was no longer in doubt as UCLA cruised to a 92-72 win in Alcindor’s final game.

But there was no more thrilling game in the Alcindor era than the 1967-68 opener at Purdue, a night when Rick Mount became a household name, and would be honored later that season on the TGS All-Newcomer team. We don’t think we can remember a more dramatic setting for a college hoops debut. And recalling that night still gives us goosebumps to this day.

After all of these years, it’s nice to know “the kick” is still there!


BRANDON KNIGHT, 6-3 Frosh, Kentucky
TIM HARDAWAY, JR., 6-5 Frosh, Michigan
JARED SULLINGER, 6-9 Frosh, Ohio State
TERRENCE JONES, 6-8 Frosh, Kentucky
TOBIAS HARRIS, 6-8 Frosh, Tennessee
HARRISON BARNES, 6-8 Frosh, North Carolina

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