During the 31 days of March, we feature some of the greatest moments from the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in the history of ASN's family of schools. Today: La Salle.
Tom Gola was the story of La Salle's 1954 NCAA championship in men's basketball, the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
One of the most talented collegiate athletes in Philadelphia history, Gola lead La Salle to the 1952 NIT championship and was named co-MVP.
He was tournament MVP and National Player of the Year after leading La Salle to a 92-76 victory against Bradley in the NCAA title game on March 20, 1954.
“Gola is the most completely versatile player in the collegiate game," New York Knicks coach Joe Lapchick said in 1954. "He can do everything, and do everything amazingly well.”
During La Salle's championship run, he scored 28 points in a 76-74 overtime victory against Fordham; 26 in an 88-81 victory against N.C. State; 22 points in a 64-48 victory against Navy; 19 in a 69-54 victory against Penn State; and 19 in the victory against Bradley.
The Explorers trailed Bradley 43-42 at halftime, but pulled away in the second half. Frank Blatcher and Charles Singley led La Salle with 23 points apiece. The Explorers set a championship game record with 92 points, which has been surpassed only three times since.
As a senior, Gola helped La Salle finish as the runner-up in the 1955 NCAA Tournament. The Explorers won nine consecutive tournament games until losing to Bill Russell and San Francisco, 77-63.
In 115 games at La Salle, Gola averaged 20.9 points and 19.0 rebounds and holds the NCAA record with 2,201 career rebounds.
He went on to play in the NBA for Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors and New York Knicks (1955-1956 and 1957-1966), amassing 7,871 points and 5,605 rebounds. He returned to La Salle as coach from 1968-70, including a 23-1 record and No. 2 ranking in his first season.
"Tom was a Philadelphia icon whose name is synonymous with basketball," Brother Michael J. McGinniss, La Salle's president, said when Gola died in 2014. "His legacy will live on at La Salle forever and in the university's Tom Gola Arena."
While there's no denying Gola's greatness, the greatest post-athletic career story from La Salle's championship team is that of Robert Ames. The son of a Philadelphia-area steelworker was a sophomore on the 1954 championship team and rose to become The Good Spy, America’s most influential CIA officer in the Middle East.
Ames died on April 18, 1983, when a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. He was 49 and left behind a wife and six children. Only upon his death did most of them learn that their father had been a spy.
"It's amazing," Singley, also a sophomore on the 1954 team, said in 2004. "This very nice guy we played with all those years ago became such a major force in world affairs, and he did it as a CIA agent."
In 2003, Blatcher recalled a conversation with Ames. "What kind of stuff you doing? 'Stuff for the president.' Oh, must be interesting. What kind of stuff? 'Well recently I met with Khomani.' Is that Charlie Humaney? He said, 'No. The Ayatollah.'"
But Ames never forgot that 1954 La Salle team.
"Bob was buried at Arlington National Cemetery," Blatcher said in 2004. "After the funeral, we all went back to his house. Inside, he had two plaques from La Salle, one for the championship, one for being the NCAA runner-up [in 1955], in a very prominent spot."