A living legend


Former La Salle play­er and coach Tom Gola has been named to the in­aug­ur­al class of the At­lantic 10 Con­fer­ence’s Men’s Bas­ket­ball Le­gends. 

The class con­sists of 16 former men’s bas­ket­ball play­ers and coaches who made ma­jor im­pacts on A-10 bas­ket­ball pro­grams.

Gola, a long­time res­id­ent of Pine Val­ley and Somer­ton, and many of the oth­er mem­bers nev­er ac­tu­ally com­peted in the con­fer­ence, which formed in 1976 and was known as the East­ern Col­legi­ate Bas­ket­ball League and the East­ern 8. The con­fer­ence changed its name to the At­lantic 10 in 1982. La Salle joined in 1995. Today, there are 17 full or par­tial mem­bers in the con­fer­ence, which has non­ethe­less kept the At­lantic 10 name.

“The con­sid­er­able con­tri­bu­tions each of these gen­tle­men made to their in­sti­tu­tion and its bas­ket­ball pro­gram played an im­port­ant role in shap­ing the found­a­tion of men’s bas­ket­ball in the At­lantic 10,” Com­mis­sion­er Ber­na­dette V. McGlade said in a state­ment. “Wheth­er it was build­ing a pro­gram that even­tu­ally be­came a found­ing mem­ber or fur­ther­ing the con­fer­ence as it grew in­to a bas­ket­ball power, each of the honorees is a part of the fab­ric of A-10 his­tory and we’re thrilled to be able to hon­or them.”

Be­sides Gola, the class is made up coaches John Chaney (Temple), Tony Hinkle (But­ler) and Skip Pross­er (Xavi­er); play­er/coach Johnny Bach (Ford­ham); and play­ers Mike Ban­tom (St. Joseph’s), Red Auerbach (George Wash­ing­ton), Cedric “Corn­bread” Max­well (Char­lotte), Don­ald “Monk” Meineke (Dayton), Chuck Cooper (Duquesne), Lou Roe (Mas­sachu­setts), Steve Chu­bin (Rhode Is­land), Johnny New­man (Rich­mond), Earl Belch­er (St. Bonaven­ture), Ger­ald Hende­r­son (Vir­gin­ia Com­mon­wealth) and An­thony Bon­ner (Saint Louis).

Gola, Chaney, Auerbach and Hinkle are all mem­bers of the Na­i­s­mith Na­tion­al Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame.

The Le­gends will be honored on March 16 at Barclays Cen­ter in Brook­lyn, N.Y., pri­or to the con­fer­ence semi­finals. Each honoree will be also be sa­luted dur­ing an awards brunch earli­er in the day.

Gola, who turned 80 on Jan. 13, grew up in Ol­ney. He starred in bas­ket­ball for In­carn­a­tion of Our Lord and La Salle High School be­fore en­rolling at La Salle Col­lege.

In col­lege, he was a three-time All-Amer­ic­an. He was Co-Most Valu­able Play­er when the Ex­plorers won the NIT cham­pi­on­ship in 1952. He was Out­stand­ing Play­er in 1954 when he led his team to the NCAA title.

After all these years, he still holds the NCAA re­cord for ca­reer re­bounds, with 2,201.

In the NBA, he won a cham­pi­on­ship with the old Phil­adelphia War­ri­ors as a rook­ie in 1955-56. He went on to play in five all-star games. He re­tired from the New York Knicks in 1966.

That same year, he was elec­ted as a Re­pub­lic­an to a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. He served a pair of two-year terms.

While in the House, he coached the La Salle men’s bas­ket­ball team for two years. In 1969, the Ex­plorers were 23-1 and ranked second in the na­tion, but were pro­hib­ited from com­pet­ing in the NCAA tour­na­ment be­cause of rules vi­ol­a­tions com­mit­ted be­fore Gola’s ten­ure.

Also in 1969, Gola was elec­ted city con­trol­ler. He served one four-year term. He also ran in the 1983 Re­pub­lic­an primary for may­or.

After leav­ing polit­ics, he worked in busi­ness.

In 2003, he suffered ser­i­ous in­jur­ies when he fell out­side a res­taur­ant and hit his head on a curb. He has had a series of med­ic­al set­backs since then. Today, he lives in St. Joseph Man­or in Mead­ow­brook.

Over the years, he has earned many hon­ors. La Salle named its gym Tom Gola Arena and re­tired his No. 15 jer­sey. He has also been in­duc­ted in­to the North­east Phil­adelphia, Big Five, Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia CYO, Phil­adelphia Sports, Madis­on Square Garden and Pol­ish Halls of Fame. ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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