Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Cinderella Stories: La Salle Explorers
By Zach McCann
La Salle is the furthest it's been in the NCAA tourney since finishing as national runner-up in 1955.
The Sweet 16 is set, primarily with big schools from bigger conferences. But it's also got a few outsiders. So, as we did last week, Playbook continues to profile the little guys, looking at their exploits inside sports -- and far away from the fields of play.
The La Salle Explorers are playing in their first NCAA tournament since 1990, but if you know your NCAA history, this basketball program is hardly an unknown. La Salle has been the home of NCAA players of the year, NBA superstars and even an NCAA championship trophy in its long hoops history.
Let’s take a closer look at the Atlantic 10 school located in Philadelphia -- and go beyond just basketball.
• But let’s start with one of the historic games in NCAA basketball history. It was the 1954 championship game between La Salle and Bradley College, and notably, it was the first NCAA final to be shown on national television. La Salle took advantage of the spotlight, dropping Bradley 92-76 and becoming just the third team from the East Coast to win the national title (Holy Cross and City College of New York were the others).
• Three La Salle players have been named NCAA national player of the year: Tom Gola in ’55, Michael Brooks in ’80 and Lionel Simmons in ’90. All three went on to the NBA, with Gola being named to the NBA Hall of Fame and Brooks being honored as captain of the ’80 U.S. national team. Some other distinguished NBA alumni: Kobe Bryant’s father, Joe Bryant, who played eight NBA seasons; ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler; former Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller; and current NBA journeyman Rasual Butler.
• While La Salle basketball dominated the mid-'50s, it wasn’t the only sport making waves. The rowing team won three straight Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta championships -- the largest intercollegiate rowing event in the U.S. -- from ’56 to ’58.
• So what’s up with the nickname “Explorers”? It’s complicated. Campus lore maintains the name derived from a sports writer who mistakenly thought the school was named after French explorer Sieur de La Salle (the school actually is named after St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle) in 1931. And that did happen. But the school officially became the Explorers when the school’s newspaper held a student vote the next year, and “Explorers” won the vote.
• ESPN and CBS analyst Bill Raftery, a ’63 alum, returns to the area each year to chair the basketball program’s biggest fundraising event, the Friends of Bill Raftery Golf Outing at North Hills Country Club. He received a bachelor’s degree in history and later received an honorary doctorate from La Salle in 2001.
• Some other people who went to the school: "Silver Linings Playbook" author Matthew Quick, actor Peter Boyle and famous Washington D.C. contractor John McShain.