In the winter of 1965–66 the most heralded High School basketball player was a 6'4" 179 pound jump shooting machine in Lebanon, Indiana. His name was Rick "The Rocket" Mount.
Defending National Champion UCLA believed they had the inside track on Mount as Head Coach John Wooden was a native Hoosier himself.
Wooden already had the incredible 7'1' Lew Alcindor on the freshman team (Frosh were ineligible to play varsity ball before the '72–'73 season) and the great Bruin coach's head was spinning with thoughts of the Rocket's long–range gunning stopping defenses from collapsing on Alcindor in future contests.
Near the end of his senior season at Lebanon High, Mount listed his favorite college choices as UCLA, Cincinnati, Miami, Kentucky, Kansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Duke, and Michigan. Where did he end up? Purdue, 39 miles away in West Lafayette, Indiana.
"Build it and they will come" was the often whispered remark at the end of Mount's recruiting. There is no proof to indicate this was true, but it should be noted that on the day Rick Mount first set foot on the court to play college ball, it was in the grand opening of the 14,000 seat Purdue Arena. Five years later it was renamed Mackey Arena.
At the end of Rick's Junior season the Boilermakers found themselves in the National Championship game against, you guessed it, John Wooden and UCLA. The Bruins were going for their third straight national title and featured the unstoppable Alcindor.
Although the Boilermakers fell short that day, the arena has been good to them in the 41 years since it opened in Rick Mount's debut. There is a loudness level that can't be duplicated due to the rounded aluminum roof, and this provides the Boilers with an impressive home court advantage over opponents.
The 2008–09 edition of Purdue is among the best and most highly rated teams in the country. Although they have no shooter in Rick Mount's league, he averaged 33 points a game on 52% shooting for his career, they make up for any offensive shortcomings with a tenacious defense keyed by Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant.
After winning 25 games last season, and taking powerful Oklahoma into overtime during Thanksgiving week in New York City, the experts pegged the Boilermakers as the favorite for the Big 10 title and posted them as a 2 1/2 point favorite over Duke in the Big10–ACC Challenge.
The experts were wrong. This is not the soft underbelly Blue Devil unit of the past two seasons. This year's team is deep, talented, quick, and out-rebounds the opposition by 10 boards a game.
Duke also has one other weapon, one that can take them to the Final Four, the most effective defense played by the Blue Devils since the 2001 National Champions.
Quickly silencing the wired–up Purdue crowd by holding the Boilermakers scoreless for the first four minutes of the game, the Blue Devils controlled the contest from start to finish in winning, 76–60.
Duke went about their work with a precision born of experience and comradeship that can't be duplicated by pundits quoting untold press clippings regarding "how good a player could be in the NBA."
In the 1987–88 season, Coach Mike Krzyzewski built a defensive thresher that simply snuffed the life out of offenses by pressuring the ball with long–armed defenders.
The group was known throughout the land as "The Rock Crusher" due to the amount of pressure they put on the opponent's ball–handlers.
Utilizing such stoppers as former 76ers GM Billy King (National Defensive Player of the Year), former Missouri Head Coach Quinn Snyder (who supposedly had arms 84 inches across), and electrifying Robert Brickey, the group advanced to the Final Four.
On a cold Tuesday Night in Indiana, the highly touted Boilermakers felt a new generation of the Rock Crusher in the person of Nolan Smith, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and 7'1' Greg Zoubek who used his size to rake in eight rebounds while intimidating the smaller Boilermakers into several missed shots.
"It was a man's game" stated Singler. And Singler was the man, pouring in 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Gerald Henderson patrolled the lanes swatting away the soft put–backs of Purdue and grabbing nine rebounds.
It was a spectacular defensive performance, worthy of comparisons to the Rock Crusher. Testimony to the philosophy of the Blue Devils that "Defense travels, offense unravels".
Afterwards, Boilermaker leader E'Twan Moore stated, "It was a lot tougher than we thought it was going to be." Purdue Coach Matt Painter was more to the point, "They made us play they way they wanted, not the way we wanted to play."
Dependable Boilers Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer were a combined 3 for 16 from the field as the entire team shot only 37%. Duke also won the rebound battle 49–29.
In the end, Kyler Singler summed up the situation when he said "This was a big game for Purdue, we could feel it, but we play in big games all the time, and it takes a while for a team to learn how to play in big games".
Let the nation be warned, the Rock Crusher lives again.