BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Former All-Star Tom Gola was a shoo-in to be chosen for the inaugural class of the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Men’s Basketball Legends.
Gola was a superstar player at La Salle who later enjoyed success there as a coach.
The legends were honored publicly on the court on Saturday at the conference tournament. Gola, 80, was unable to attend because of health reasons. His wife, Caroline, accepted on his behalf.
“It was a wonderful day for Tom,” she said. “He deserves every award in the college ranks.”
Gola grew up in Olney and played 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.
All these years later, 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.
His home on Kings Oak Lane in Pine Valley is filled with awards and pictures from his playing days.
In ’66, he was elected to a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Republican. He served two two-year terms.
While serving as a state representative, 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 banned from participating in the NCAA tournament because of rules violations committed before Gola’s tenure.
Also in ’69, Gola was elected city controller. He served a four-year term before losing a re-election bid in 1973. He also sought the Republican mayoral nomination in 1983.
After leaving politics, he became a successful businessman.
Gola’s health troubles started in 2003, when he fell outside a restaurant, hit his head on a curb and suffered serious injuries.
Today, he resides in St. Joseph Manor in Meadowbrook.
Gola is a member of the following Halls of Fame: Naismith National Basketball, Northeast Philadelphia, Big Five, Archdiocese of Philadelphia CYO, Philadelphia Sports, Madison Square Garden and Polish.
In addition, La Salle named its gym Tom Gola Arena and retired his No. 15 jersey.
“Tom has had a wonderful life,” Caroline said.
The Atlantic 10 Legends class consisted of 16 former men’s players and coaches. The group was highlighted by Gola and three other Naismith National Basketball Hall of Famers: former coaches John Chaney of Temple and Tony Hinkle of Butler and former George Washington player Red Auerbach, who gained greater fame by coaching the Boston Celtics to nine NBA championships and later serving as the franchise’s top executive.
Other honorees were coach Skip Prosser (Xavier), player/coach Johnny Bach (Fordham) and players Mike Bantom (St. Joseph’s), 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).
Sixteen former women’s players were also recognized.
Gola and many other honorees never competed in the Atlantic 10. The conference formed in 1976 and was known as the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League and the Eastern 8 until changing its name to the Atlantic 10 in 1982. La Salle joined in 1995.
The honorees were saluted during a brunch at the 40/40 Club inside the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Later, they were cheered on the court at halftime of the men’s semifinal game between Saint Louis and Butler.
The cheers grew louder moments later when Temple teacher Brad Baer — a fan chosen at random from the crowd — made a half-court shot and pocketed a $10,000 prize.
La Salle’s president, Brother Michael J. McGinniss, and athletic director, Tom Brennan, were in attendance to honor Gola and Jennifer (Cole) Davis, a women’s Legend who was a guard for the Explorers from 1989-93.
“She was tickled pink to be inducted with Tom,” Caroline said of Davis. “She said, ‘I played at Tom Gola Arena.’ ”
Mrs. Gola showed her husband the commemorative booklet on Sunday and told him she met one of his contemporaries, Meineke.
La Salle beat Dayton in the 1952 NIT final. It was the final game for Meineke, a senior, and the start of a great career for Gola, a freshman.
“Don Meineke told me, ‘He [Tom] won that game for La Salle,’ ” Caroline said.
La Salle’s men’s team was eliminated from the conference tournament on Friday, but the Explorers received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They are scheduled to play Boise State on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org