Gola honored as Atlantic 10 basketball legend

Liv­ing le­gend: Tom Gola was named to the in­aug­ur­al class of the At­lantic 10 Con­fer­ence Men’s Bas­ket­ball Le­gends. His wife, Car­oline, (wav­ing) ac­cep­ted the award on his be­half at the tour­na­ment on Sat­urday. TOM WAR­ING / TIMES PHOTO

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 twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus