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"Gola really is remarkable, not only as an athlete, but as a boy," said Father Joseph Smith, whose father once managed former Light Heavyweight Champion Tommy Loughran. "He has never once severed his ties with his neighborhood and, considering all, he could be forgiven if he would."
Gola has had so much praise piled around him that it is hard to believe that behind the barrier of press notices there exists anything that even faintly resembles an ordinary mortal. There does, however, although Father Joseph Belz, another Incarnation priest who has had considerable influence on him, is inclined to side with some who believe Gola is a bit too good to be true. "There is a touch of unreality about Tommy," Father Belz says.
Nowhere, possibly, is this better seen than on the basketball floor, where Gola appears to be untouched by the excitement about him yet commands the game so completely. There is a Polish phlegmatism about Gola which amounts to an air of detachment. The expression on his high-cheekboned face seldom changes, and his show of apparent aloofness is his one outstanding personality characteristic.
He rarely speaks on the floor. He is never an exhibitionist. He has the faculty of seeming to conserve his energy while running with the glide that has the grace of ice skating. Suddenly he shifts gears and explodes into high speed.
"I have never seen an athlete with better reflexes or one who is less affected by tension," said Mario Vetere, La Salle's trainer. "He can put his head on the pillow a few hours before a championship game, immediately fall asleep and awaken refreshed."
Gola thinks his poise comes from being one of seven children. He probably inherits some of it from his father and mother, who, as he describes them, "are pretty hard to disturb."
Tom's father, Isadore, called Ike for short, is a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia police force. Last year, while the oldest of his three sons was breaking records as the highest point scorer in La Salle's basketball history, Officer Ike apprehended two men burgling a restaurant. One of the men broke and ran. The other hid behind a fender. Using it as protection, he fired five shots at Gola. All missed. The officer fired five shots, three finding their target.
The Golas were at dinner in their lower-middle-class red two-story home at 5110 North Third Street when Ike called to tell the family he had been in a shooting scrape. "Poppa's all right," Mrs. Gola said, returning to the dinner table. "He hit the robber three times with five shots."
Tom's brothers and sisters pointed out that that was somewhat better than his own shot-making average.
The whole Gola family has an impressive talent for the calculated risk. In one game last season Tom scored 41 points, breaking by two the college's individual scoring record previously held by Larry Foust. With 25 seconds to play he had 38 points and an opportunity for an easy shot, but he handed off the ball. With five seconds to go, Gola dribbled in for a shot and was fouled as he made it. He sank the foul and a second later melted from the floor to the team's dressing room.