Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Philadelphia basketball legend Tom Gola, who plied his trade collegiately at La Salle and then ultimately became the program's head coach, died on Sunday. He was 81.
The Daily News reported on Sunday that Gola passed away at a suburban Philly personal-care facility, where he spent his last years of life.
"It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing on Sunday of Tom Gola," stated La Salle president Brother Michael J. McGinniss. "Tom was a Philadelphia icon whose name is synonymous with basketball. The National Basketball Hall of Famer earned his place in history as a great player and coach. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Caroline and his family. We wish him eternal peace."
Back in 2003, Gola suffered a serious head injury after he fell outside a restaurant, hitting his head on the curb. He was in a coma and was reported to be close to death, but recovered enough to walk unassisted again.
However, according to the paper, seizures robbed him of his mobility and caused him to be placed under a hospital's care.
Gola, a graduate of La Salle University, had a great four-year stint at what was known as La Salle College. He helped lead the Explorers to an NIT title as a freshman in 1952 and the NCAA championship during his junior year in 1954. He became the first player in college history to amass 2,000 points and more than 2,000 rebounds, and remains the NCAA's all-time leader in that category (2,201).
The third all-time leading scorer and No. 1 all-time rebounder at La Salle, Gola was a territorial pick of the Philadelphia Warriors and helped lead the team to the NBA title in 1956. He also played for the New York Knicks during his 10-year NBA career.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Big 5 Hall of Fame in 1986.
After becoming the head coach of the basketball program at La Salle, he guided the Explorers to a 23-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the nation in 1968. However, the team could not compete in the NCAA Tournament since it was on probation due to problems with the program while under the guidance of coach Jim Harding.
La Salle's home court was re-dedicated as Tom Gola Arena in 1998.