Each week the La
Salle Collegian, undergraduate newspaper of La Salle College, a Christian
Brothers institution in the Olney section of Philadelphia, selects one of its
students for the Explorer of the Week Award. The selection is based on athletic
achievement and all but one among La Salle's 1,400 students are eligible.
The victim of
the discrimination is Tom Gola. As a freshman, Gola led the La Salle basketball
team to the National Invitation Tournament title in March, 1952. As a junior he
took La Salle to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship last
March. During these years he won the award so frequently that he has been
permanently banned by the editors, who take the humane view that the rest of
the students deserve a chance too.
Gola, an affable
yet intense giant who exerts most of his efforts to vanishing into the ranks of
the student body, is in total agreement. He is a loyal, serious citizen who
loves his home and school and happens to enjoy playing basketball well. He
would like to let it go at that, but he can't.
In a basketball
sense he is as be-medaled and bespangled as a Graustarkian general. He has been
called the best college basketball player in the country. Any number of college
coaches insist he is the best who ever laced on a sneaker.
Gola in one game during his freshman season, Joe Lapchick, one-time center of
the Original Celtics and now coach of the New York Knickerbockers of the
National Basketball Association, estimated that this 18-year-old whiz could
move directly into any of the professional league's starting line-ups.
The two seasons
which have passed scarcely have punctured Lapchick's balloonlike appraisal.
Gola, who stands 6 feet 7� inches on the court, has grown 1� inches in height
since entering La Salle and immeasurably in stature. Unless calamity
inexplicably strikes him, he will end his college career next June singularly
honored by being one of few ever named to a majority All-America three times.
Last year during the NCAA Tourney Gola was the only player chosen unanimously
for the all-tourney team.
He has in
different years been chosen the outstanding player to appear that season in New
York's Madison Square Garden, Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium, San Francisco's
Cow Palace, Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, Philadelphia's Convention Hall
and the University of Pennsylvania's Palestra.
have run into such numbers, in fact, that a measure of his celebrity has even
reached into Wildwood, N.J., a seaside resort where Gola's family spends its
summers. A rooming house on Oak Avenue owned by Jerry Bergin, a Philadelphia
neighbor of the Golas, was renamed " NCAA (Nice, Clean, Airy,
Accessible)" after La Salle won the championship at Kansas City.
On the surface,
this may not sound important, but it is for a player who, despite national
acclaim, has never lost the neighborhood touch. A virtual cult of Gola admirers
has developed among basketball players, coaches, writers and fans. But Gola
prefers playing with the kids in the playgrounds, church gyms and schoolyards
of Philadelphia's Incarnation (Catholic) Parish, where he himself first learned
to handle a basketball. This is just one more reason why Gola is about the most
popular player in the city's history.