La Salle Men’s Basketball.
For many in the Philly Big 5 and college basketball world, it means a long storied history with a strong tradition like few others. For many La Salle alumni it means everything—they eat, sleep, and breathe Explorer basketball and are some of the most diehard and passionate fans in college basketball. And, with good reason—most agree that men’s basketball
is what first put La Salle College on the map.
Since its inaugural 1930-31 season, the history of La Salle basketball is filled with amazing stories, dedicated coaches, topnotch teams, legendary players, and for the alumni who witnessed it all, unforgettable memories.
The names roll off the tongue. Lionel Simmons, ’90. Michael Brooks, ’80. Tom Gola, ’55. Ken Durrett, ’71. Larry Cannon, ’69. All five had their jerseys retired by La Salle and they might be the greatest five any college basketball program has ever produced. Yet they are not alone…
Who can forget seeing Ralph Lewis, ’85 and Donnie Carr? What about Joe Bryant and Randy Woods, ’92? How about Larry Foust, ’50, who was an eight-time NBA All-Star? What about Tim Legler, ’88, now a lead NBA analyst at ESPN? And Bill Raftery, ’63? Doug Overton, ’91, an 11-year NBA player? Steve Smith, ’05, a two-time Atlantic-10 Player of the Year still playing in Europe? The list goes on…
La Salle has two national champion teams—the 1952 NIT champions, which was considered the national championship at the time, and the 1954 NCAA Tournament champions. The 1968-1969 team with four future NBA players in the starting lineup, finished second in the nation with a 23-1 record, but was unable to compete in postseason play due to NCAA infractions.
La Salle has also had its share of Hall of Fame coaches, like Ken Loeffler and Speedy Morris. Fran Dunphy ’70, a player on the renowned ’68-69 team, is now a legendary coach at Temple and formerly Penn. Paul Westhead coached here in the 70s, won an NBA title as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and a WNBA title with the Phoenix Mercury. “La Salle men’s basketball has a history that rivals any college basketball program in the country. Our Explorers have been ranked nationally a remarkable 111 times since the 1950’s, boast three National Players of the Year, an NCAA Tournament championship, an NI championship and have had 22 players go on to play in the NBA. Philadelphia is one of the best and most historic college basketball cities anywhere, and La Sall basketball is a significant part of this storied tradition,” said Bill Bradshaw, ’69, Director of Athletics and Recreation.
Like most great stories, La Salle men’s basketball has had its ups and downs, twists and turns, and heroes and rivals—perhaps too many to fill a few pages.
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LA SALLE’S MEN’S BASKETBALL BY THE NUMBERS
1 NCAA Championship
1 NIT Championship
2 Final Four Appearances
12 NCAA Tournament Appearances
3 National Players of the Year
8 Big 5 Championships
1 of only 2 schools to have two players in the
Top 25 of all time in NCAA scoring
3,217 school record points scored by Lionel Simmons at La Salle
Too Many to Count Mascot Costumes
Everyone has their favorite moments—Big 5 doubleheaders at The Palestra, loading up buses to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Championship, watching L-Train and company go head-to-head with Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, or more recently, the scintillating run to the Sweet Sixteen to name a few. In fact, when a recent survey of alumni student-athletes asked “what was your favorite memory?” a basketball-related answer came back most frequently regardless of which sport he or she participated in.
Some highlights of the top games or moments in Explorer men’s basketball history:
OFFENSIVE SHOOTOUT VS. LOYOLA MARYMOUNT – In an epic offensive display, La Salle and Loyola Marymount racked up 237 points between them in a classic that was eventually won by the Lions, 121-116. Lionel Simmons finished with 34 points and 19 rebounds for the Explorers.
EXPLORERS DEFEAT FLORIDA STATE AT THE PALESTRA – Led by 36 points from Simmons and 19 from Jack Hurd, ’92, La Salle picked up a 101-100 victory over No. 12 Florida State on Feb. 23, 1989.
LA SALLE TOPPLES FIGHTING IRISH – In another famed game at the storied Palestra, National Player of the Year Michael Brooks, ’80, Kurt Kanaskie, ’80, and Mo Connolly led the Explorers to a 62-60 win over No. 8 Notre Dame on Jan. 30, 1979.
BROOKS MARVELS BYU FAITHFUL IN UTAH –
In one of many legendary performances throughout his illustrious career, Brooks brought the hometown crowd in Provo, Utah to its feet after fouling out in overtime of a game against No. 18 Brigham Young University in 1979. Brooks scored a then-school record 51 points, nearly single-handedly willing the Explorers to a road win.
SOME OF THE TOP TEAMS IN OUR HISTORY
1947-48 | FIRST POSTSEASON APPEARANCE
RECORD: 20-4 Led by coach Charles McGlone, ’42, La Salle made it to the post season for the first time in 1948, when the team competed in the NIT Tournament. Even with top scorer Larry Foust, ’50, the team lost to Western Kentucky.
1951-1952 | NIT CHAMPIONS
RECORD: 25-7 With legendary coach Ken Loeffler at the helm, La Salle not only made it to the NIT Tournament, they proceeded to win the title with wins over Seton Hall and Duquesne, before finishing off Dayton with a final score of 75-64. Then considered the premier college basketball tournament, the championship made La Salle, and top scorer Tom Gola, household names.
1953-54 | NCAA CHAMPIONS
RECORD: 26-4 Once again led by Loeffler, the Explorers solidified their place on the national college basketball scene with their appearance in the 1954 NCAA Tournament. They went on to defeat Fordham, North Carolina State, Navy, and Penn State, before a crushing 92-76 victory over Bradley to claim the NCAA championship. The Explorers set a NCAA championship game record with 92 points, which has only been surpassed three times since.
1954-55 | NCAA CHAMPION RUNNER UP
RECORD: 26-5 Looking for back-to-back NCAA titles, senior All-American Tom Gola led the Explorers to a 26-5 mark and all the way to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament before falling to a San Francisco team that featured legendary center Bill Russell. Gola averaged 24.2 points and 19.9 rebounds per game in his final season at La Salle, and helped the team to wins over No. 5 Iowa, No. 8 Niagara, No. 13 Southern California and No. 15 UCLA throughout the year.
1968-69 | NUMBER TWO IN THE NATION
RECORD: 23-1 Often considered La Salle’s greatest team, Gola returned to coach at his alma mater and led the team to a stunning 23-1 record. Despite finishing the season at number two in the Associated
Press poll, the Explorers were ineligible for post-season play due to NCAA violations under Gola’s predecessor.
1986-90 | THE LIONEL SIMMONS ERA
In what was perhaps a match made in college basketball heaven, Speedy Morris was brought on to coach the Explorers the same year Lionel Simmons entered as a highly-recruited freshman. The Morris- Simmons years are considered the best era in La Salle basketball history. The Explorers made the 1987 NIT Tournament finals before losing to Southern Mississippi. The team made it to the NCAA Tournament each of the next three years.
2012-2013 | SWEET SIXTEEN
RECORD: 24-10 Led by coach Dr. John Giannini, La Salle men’s basketball returned to the national stage when they made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 21 years. Led by Ramon Galloway, ’13, Tyreek Duren, ’13, Tyrone Garland, ’13, and Jerrell Wright, ’13, the team pushed past opponents Boise State, Kansas State, and Ole Miss, before losing to Wichita State, who eventually went on to the Final Four.