Monday, February 2, 2009

The Best of La Salle Hoops

La Salle hoops is extreme to the extreme. Their top five players rank with the top five at any program in the country. Think about that: any other college hoops team nationally. But when those five weren’t around, La Salle teams were barely above mid-major quality.

The best of La Salle’s three national players of the year—only Duke has more—was the incomparable Tom Gola. No player at any other Philadelphia school has stamped his name on a program like Gola. He played on four of the six best teams in school history—and coached another one of the top six—and led the Explorers to an NCAA title, an NIT title, and a second NCAA championship game.

The first team:
1. Tom Gola (1951-55)
A three-time consensus All-American and the ’54 college player of the year, Gola led La Salle to the NIT title in 1952, the ’54 NCAA championship, and a repeat NCAA title game appearance in 1955, a loss to Bill Russell’s San Francisco team. Gola (2,462 points) is the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder (2,201), but, amazingly, went on to play guard in the NBA, where the 6-6 Hall of Famer was a five-time NBA All Star.

2. Lionel Simmons (1986-90)
Simmons is the third all-time leading scorer in NCAA history (3,217, behind only Pete Maravich and Freeman Williams) and was the ’90 NCAA player of the year. A 6-6 forward, Simmons averaged 24.6 ppg. for his career and led the Explorers to the most wins in school history, a 30-2 record in 1990. Only one player in NCAA history has more points and rebounds combined than Simmons (4,646)—Gola with 4,663.

3. Ken Durrett (1968-71)
In just three seasons, Durrett finished his career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer (behind Gola, with 1,679 points). The 6-7 forward averaged 23.7 ppg. in his career and 27.0 ppg as a senior, when he was a second-team All-American. He was the fourth overall pick in the 1971 NBA draft.

4. Michael Brooks (1976-80)
The second leading scorer in La Salle history (2,628) and 21st all-time in NCAA history, Brooks was the 1980 college player of the year when he averaged 24.1 points, 11.5 rebounds. For his career, the 6-7 forward averaged 23.1 ppg. and 12.8 rpg. and was the ninth overall pick in the 1980 NBA draft.

5. Larry Foust (1946-50)
Foust helped start a 10-year run of success at La Salle as the 6-9 center guided the Explorers to four straight 20-win seasons. He finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,464 points) and went on to become the fifth overall pick in the 1950 NBA draft and an eight-time NBA All Star.

The second team:
Larry Cannon (1966-69)
Joe Bryant (1973-75)
Jack George (1950-53)
Ralph Lewis (1981-85)
Alonzo Lewis (1954-57)

The best team: 1953-54
The NCAA champs were led by Gola, the only player to be named NCAA and NIT MVP in his career, according to Mike Douchant’s Encyclopedia of College Basketball (Gola shared the ’52 NIT MVP with Norm Grekin). Gola averaged 23.0 ppg., 21.7 rpg. (third nationally) during the 26-4 championship season. Other top players included Charlie Singley, Frank Blatcher, Frank O’Hara, Fran O’Malley, Bob Maples, and Charles Greenberg.

Other top teams:
1954-55: The Explorers went 26-5 and reached the NCAA title game during Gola’s senior season. They lost, 77-63, to San Francisco, led by Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.
1951-52: The Explorers won the ’52 NIT title behind freshman Gola, and juniors Grekin, and Fred Iehle. The team went 25-7.
1989-90: Lionel Simmons’ senior year team went 30-2 and featured Doug Overton, Randy Woods, Jack Hurd, and sixth man Bobby Johnson.
1968-69: Larry Cannon’s 23-1 team, coached by Gola, was ineligible for the NCAA tourney, but still ripped through its regular-season schedule, losing only to John Roche’s South Carolina.
1952-53: The Explorers went 25-3 when Grekin and Iehle were seniors and Gola was a sophomore.

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