Basketball Hall of Famer Tom Gola, the leading rebounder in NCAA history, died Sunday at age 81.
According to numerous media reports, he was in ill health since a fall more than 10 years ago, and he died at a care facility in Meadowbrook, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.
Gola was a Philadelphia legend from his time with La Salle High, La Salle University and the Warriors.
“Tom was a great man who, in true Lasallian spirit, did great things for the University and for others,” Brother Michael J. McGinniss, the president of La Salle University, said in a statement. “La Salle University was very lucky to have him as part of our family. … His legacy will live on at La Salle forever and in the University’s Tom Gola Arena. “
The 6-foot-6 forward guided La Salle University to the National Invitation Tournament championship as a freshman in 1952, then to the NCAA championship two years later, earning MVP honors in each title game. He was the national player of the year as a senior, when the Explorers lost the NCAA championship game.
A four-time All-American, Gola finished with a career total of 2,201 rebounds, which remains the NCAA record. He averaged more than 20 points and 18 rebounds per game.
“Tom Gola is known by all as a truly great player and coach but it was the man that was most cherished at La Salle,” the current La Salle coach, Dr. John Giannini, said in a statement. “Every person connected with La Salle basketball for over a 60 year span has held his friendship and leadership as a blessing they could always count on. Our deepest sympathies go to (his wife) Caroline. Our community will forever hold the Gola name as synonymous with greatness.”
Selected by the hometown Philadelphia Warriors as a territorial selection in 1955, he led the team to a championship in his rookie season of 1955-56. In the postseason, he averaged 12.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.
Gola played with the Warriors through 1962-63 — the year the team moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco — and then spent 3 1/2 seasons with the New York Knicks.
Over his 10-season NBA career, Gola averaged 11.3 points, 8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
“On behalf of the entire Philadelphia 76ers organization, we are deeply saddened to learn of the unfortunate passing of La Salle basketball legend Tom Gola,” Sixers chief executive officer Scott O’Neil said in a statement. “Tom will always be fondly remembered for his dedication to this city and as an icon for his accomplishments both on and off the court.”
Gola coached La Salle for two seasons in the late 1960s, and he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986.
Following his basketball career, Gola served as a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and as city controller of Philadelphia. He was unsuccessful in a bid to be Philadelphia’s mayor in 1983.
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