Colleagues fondly remember Tom Gola

Posted: January 29, 2014

By the time Jack Scheuer's Frankford High basketball team arrived at La Salle High for a preseason game, everyone already knew who that big, tall, quick guy was on the Explorers.

He was Tom Gola. And he could dribble like a point guard and rebound like a forward. It was 1950 and Gola, Scheuer said, had been already been famous for a few years. Gola led Incarnation of Our Lord parish to a national schoolboy title when he was in the eighth grade.

"He had 27 points and I had none," said Scheuer. "Back then, there weren't a lot of high scorers. Twenty-five was good then and he would get it every game. Along with 20 rebounds."

Gola died Sunday at age 81. His funeral will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Huntingdon Valley. There will not be a viewing.

Scheuer became a sportswriter for the Associated Press and covered Gola's two-year head coaching stint at La Salle. The Hall of Fame player had an almost seamless transition to coaching as he went 23-1 in his first season. But the Explorers were ineligible for the 1969 postseason because of NCAA violations that occurred before Gola arrived.

Scheuer said Gola the coach was the same person as Gola the player.

"He never changed from when I knew him way back," Scheuer said. "I don't think anyone did not like Tom Gola."

Dan Baker, the Phillies public address announcer and former Big Five executive director, said Gola was "just amazing. He loved the city. When the Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco, he didn't want to go West. He wanted to stay close to Philadelphia. They accommodated him and traded him to the New York Knicks and he commuted from Philadelphia to New York."

Baker said if not for NCAA sanctions, Gola's La Salle team could have "gone very far." He rattled off the stars of that squad: Ken Durrett, Larry Cannon, Roland Taylor, Stan Wlodarczyk.

"Some people thought they could have ended UCLA's streak of championships," Baker said.

Gola's former Warriors teammate Al Attles said Gola was "one of the true gentlemen of the game. A Hall of Fame player, but an ever better person."