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The Journal Gazette

  • Mackey Arena as it looked after original construction.

  • Purdue University photos The first game at Mackey Arena was played on Dec. 2, 1967, with Boilermakers legend Rick Mount making his college debut against top-ranked UCLA, which was coached by Purdue alum John Wooden.

  • Robbie Hummel was part of a great era in Mackey from 2007-08 through 2011-12.

Thursday, November 09, 2017 1:00 am

Mackey still special

50 years after opening, Purdue's arena as good as it ever was

JEFF WASHBURN | For The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – They called it the house Mount built.

Mackey Arena – Purdue's spaceship-looking basketball arena – was a fitting place for Rick Mount, nicknamed “The Rocket,” to begin his college career on Dec. 2, 1967 against Purdue alum coach John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and No. 1 UCLA.

On Friday night, Purdue will celebrate 50 seasons in Mackey, which began with UCLA's thrilling 73-71 victory. Mount, a 6-foot-4 guard, went on to become Purdue's career scoring leader with 2,323 points – a 32.3-point average.

The Boilermakers have compiled a 606-138 record (.815), and a 326-101 mark in Big Ten play. A total of 9,831,680 fans, including 366 sellouts, have watched games in Mackey, including the 14,123 who watched the opener 50 years ago.

“Time flies when you are having fun,” said Mount, now 70. “It is 50 years; ... geez.”

Three weeks before the UCLA game, Mount, the 1966 Mr. Basketball, suffered a stress fracture in his left foot during practice. He broke the fifth metatarsal and was placed in a cast for about a week. At that point, assistant coach Bob King told Mount that team physician Dr. Loyal Combs wanted to see him at the university hospital as soon as he finished class.

Combs told Mount he was cutting the cast off and that Mount would play against top-ranked UCLA. Mount was fitted with an aluminum inner sole. Mount returned to practice and wore the inner sole until the second game of Purdue's Big Ten season.

“The problem I had in the UCLA game was when you go up on that toe, it rocked,” Mount said. “The doctors said they would fix that by cutting out the aluminum toes. They said it wouldn't bend when you go up on your toes. The first night I played with it off, I scored 40. I said, 'Thank God, I'm free.'”

Mount was thrilled to begin his college career in Mackey.

“UCLA was my first varsity game, and the first game in Mackey Arena,” Mount said. “For (former athletic director) Red Mackey, that was his dream. When I was being recruited, Red told me that Mackey Arena was his baby and that he wanted me to join the program. I will never forget that first crowd. They had been drawing 7,000-9,000 in old Lambert Fieldhouse.

“There were 14,123 in Mackey for that UCLA game, but it seemed like 18,000. And of course it was Johnny Wooden and UCLA. It was great for the dedication game. It couldn't have been any better. That was when Purdue basketball really took off.”

During Mount's three varsity seasons, the Boilermakers were 33-3 in Mackey, losing only to UCLA and New Mexico State during his sophomore season and to Iowa as a senior.

“Mackey has always had a flair about it that people got excited about coming,” Mount said. “Purdue had great players in the past in Terry Dischinger and Dave Schellhase, but those guys never had the team around them that I had with Billy Keller, Herman Gilliam and Chuck Bavis.

“People say it was the house Mount built, and when people start saying that, you know you had a great career. Mackey Arena started my college career out on a good note starting with the best first game you ever could have. I had 28 points on a broken foot. If I didn't have a broken foot, we would have beaten UCLA. That game started the 50-year tradition of Mackey Arena.”

It was a tradition that former coach Gene Keady enhanced during his 25 seasons coaching the Boilermakers from 1980-81 through 2004-05, winning 295 and losing only 75.

For Keady, it's easy to discern why Purdue is so difficult to beat in Mackey.

“The people – an intelligent fan base – makes Mackey special,” Keady said. “They always are enthusiastic and love to win. They love basketball, and they loved how hard we played. It was always fun to play there and try to entertain them.

“Al McGuire told me not to take the Purdue job. He said I never could beat Bobby Knight. My first year here, I was impressed with the crowd because when I coached at Hutchinson Junior College, we had 8,000 every night, but nothing like Mackey. It was like I thought it should be. It was great. Any Big Ten game victory was always cherished. ... It's hard for other teams to even call plays in Mackey. Their focus often is shattered because of the noise.”

Popular forward Robbie Hummel, a former NBA and European professional player who now is a color analyst for ESPN and the Big Ten Network, was part of a great era in Mackey from 2007-08 through 2011-12 with E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Huntington's Chris Kramer.

Hummel, who scored 1,772 points at Purdue, was in love with Mackey the first time he played there. He averaged 14.0 points and 6.8 rebounds as a Boilermaker.

“The fans make it what it is, and that aluminum roof helps keep the noise level high,” Hummel said. “Mackey is probably one of the top two or three loudest places I ever have played. When it is really going, it is so loud there. For a big game, I don't know if there is a place I would rather be.

“Our team had such great camaraderie, but it really is too bad that we probably won't get the credit because we didn't reach the Final Four in 2010 and 2011 when we were 30-2 in Mackey. We had some things go against us in terms of injuries. Playing in Mackey probably is the most fun I ever had playing basketball. It was such an adrenalin rush to play in front of those Mackey crowds.”

Hummel said his parents – Ball State graduate Linda and Illinois grad Glenn – continue to attend Purdue home games more than five seasons since their son was a Boilermaker.

Linda Hummel is such a fan of Mackey that when a snow storm on Interstate 65 caused a wreck when Rob was a freshman that she was furious when Glenn made the decision to turn back to their Valparaiso home on the night Purdue played Michigan State.

“I had a great game, and I think my mom was ready to punch my dad as they watched it on TV,” Hummel said. “That's how much they love going to games in Mackey.”