LEBANON, Ind. – This is a story about a great shooter and the inept reporter who went looking for him. The shooter is Rick Mount. The reporter? Well. Could be me.
For weeks I made the 30-mile drive to Lebanon, to the outdoor court at Memorial Park where Mount shot as a boy and still shoots now. It’s a real show, or so I was told. And it probably is. Mount scored 2,595 points at Lebanon High from 1962-66 and averaged 35.4 ppg as a senior at Purdue, where he remains the all-time leading scorer (2,323 points) in just three varsity seasons, all without the three-point arc. The Pacers picked him first overall in the 1970 ABA Draft and he averaged 11.8 ppg in five injury-plagued seasons in the pros.
Today Rick Mount is 68 and shoots regularly at Memorial Park, sometime between 9 and 11 a.m. But not on the days I went, parking my car nearby and just … waiting. For the greatest shooter Indiana ever produced, if you believe what some folks say. They say Rick Mount shot better than Steve Alford, better than Larry Bird, better than Jimmy Chitwood, better than any man or myth.
My third trip to the park, days before the July 4 weekend, was another bust. A carnival was setting up for the weekend. Ferris wheel, rides called Crazy Bus and Freak Out, even a midway with games like this one: two basketball rims and the promise of a “jumbo” prize for a shooter who ponies up $5 and makes the 15-footer. Behind those goals, you can see the court where Rick Mount still shoots. Just not for me. Never for me.
For weeks I visited the park and asked folks there, mostly parents and grandparents with children, if they’d seen Mount shoot. Of course, they said. He was special, they said. You should see it, they said.
Shut up, I wanted to say.
So on July 3 I spy a couple in their late 20s about to take their baby for a stroll. Excuse me, I ask Lebanon graduates Craig and Casey Callahan, do you know Rick Mount?
“I used to work his camps,” Craig Callahan says.
“My dad brought me out here on Saturday mornings, and we watched him shoot until my dad got up the nerve to ask him for some pointers for me,” Craig says. “Rick was great. He worked with me every other weekend. I got good enough that he asked me to work his camps in Muncie. That was about 10 years ago.”
Emboldened by that small slice of success after so many whiffs, I leave the park and go for the home run — the home address a Lebanon friend had given me weeks ago for Mount. I knock on the door and a man in his 80s answers. This guy isn’t the greatest shooter ever. Maybe his father? I ask him if Rick Mount lives there.
“No,” Robert Crouse says to me, this stranger on his doorstep, “but come on in while I look for my phone book.”
Your phone book? Like it’ll be that easy.
While Crouse is gone I gaze around his living room. On the table next to his couch are pictures, family shots around a framed 1930 baseball card of Chicago White Sox catcher Buck Crouse. Robert comes back with the phone book and I ask if he’s related to Buck Crouse.
“My dad’s brother,” he says. “Buck was my uncle.”
Buck Crouse, an Anderson native, was a 5-8, 158-pound catcher and a career .262 hitter in eight seasons. He threw out 48.6 percent of the runners who tried to steal on him, which ranks 29th in MLB history. That’s great. Doesn’t help me find Rick Mount, but still. It’s great.
Robert Crouse has the phone book but can’t find the name he’s looking for. I ask him how old he is, just making conversation, and he says he was born in 1927.
“So you figure it out,” he says. “I went to Ball State and worked 42 years for GM in finance. Right there in Indianapolis. You came all the way from Indianapolis for Rick Mount? I run into him here at breakfast sometimes, at the Westside Café.”
Of course you do, I want to say. Instead I tell him: Yes, I did come all this way to see Mount. Hopelessly. Unless the, um, phone book can help.
Together we scan the M’s and … wait, what? Rick Mount is listed? There’s his address. Less than a mile from here. Thank you, Mr. Crouse. I’ll show myself out.
Less than three minutes later I’m sitting in my car outside a charming little house, white with green trim – a bungalow, I think you’d call it – a home with a pretty yard, lots of plants and flowers.
My approach will be better this time. More finesse. Less oaf. That’s my plan, but as I walk to the front door I notice a trailer at the back of the driveway. There are words on it. What does it say? I peel off and head for the trailer behind the house, and a door back there opens.
And there he is. The greatest shooter of all time. Well, that’s what some say. What I’m saying is, I’m looking Rick Mount in the face, right there in his driveway. Same boyish haircut. Shorts and a golf shirt. Bare feet.
Rick Mount is wondering what the hell I’m doing here.
“I’m here,” I say, “because a few weeks ago when people were saying Steph Curry is the greatest shooter ever, I wrote a story in the IndyStar about Larry Bird being the best I ever saw.”
Mount is staring. I continue.
“And a bunch of readers in Indianapolis answered me: They said, ‘I guess you never saw Rick Mount shoot.’ “
Now Mount is smiling.
“You probably didn’t,” he says.
“No sir, I did not. But I’ve been driving up here for weeks to watch you shoot in the mornings, and I’ve come up empty. So here I am, asking if I can watch you shoot.”
Mount smiles some more. He’s not crazy about the media, or so I’ve been told — I was also told where he shot and where he lived, and both of those were wrong — but he’s incredibly gracious to me, this stranger on his driveway. He says he’s busy now, but to call him in a few weeks. He says he’ll roll out the goal he stores in his garage, and he’ll shoot with me. Not for me. With me.
“I’ll give you pointers,” he says.
Now I’m smiling. And counting the days until I get to shoot with Rick Mount, and write that story.