John Wooden might have said it best. The legendary former UCLA coach once described Thomas Joseph Gola as the “greatest all-round basketball player” he had ever seen. That seems an apt characterization for a player who won championships at every level of the sport before pursuing a coaching and political career. The basketball world lost a true legend when Gola died on Sunday just outside Philadelphia. He was 81.
Gola set a standard for excellence that may never be surpassed. Standing at just 6’6″, he played much bigger than his frame would suggest, still holding the NCAA record for career rebounds with 2,201; only one other player (George Washington’s Joe Holup) has even eclipsed the 2,000-rebound plateau. Gola dominated the competition during his four-year career at La Salle, averaging 20.9 points and 19.0 rebounds per game over 121 games with the Explorers. A three-time All-American, Gola led La Salle to the 1952 NIT title, the 1954 NCAA championship (including the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award), and an NCAA runner-up placement in 1955. He was also the Helms Foundation National Player of the Year in 1954 and the UPI National Player of the Year in 1955.