While Philadelphia might be currently known for basketball powerhouses Temple and Villanova, the other three Big 5 schools aren't exactly slackers, either. La Salle has a national title to their name "" albeit in 1954 "" as part of back-to-back title game appearances, though the Explorers haven't made the NCAA tournament since 1992.
The Explorers played on-campus back in 1954 at Wister Hall, but spent the next 33 years playing away from 19th and Olney, moving back to the Tom Gola Arena when it was opened back in 1998. Part of the school's Hayman Center, the home of the school's athletic department, Gola seats 4000 in a clean, well-lit gym, though with very few bells-and-whistles.
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This is stadium food at its most basic, with only one concession stand that should definitely be avoided at halftime. The prices are fairly reasonable, with a slice of cheese pizza going for just $2.50 and an all-beef hot dog going for $2.75. Soft pretzels ($2) and popcorn ($1.50) are also available, as are nachos ($3). The school is a Coca-Cola school, and $2.25 for a soda in a stadium isn't a bad deal for a snack during one of the media timeouts. Don't plan on dinner at Gola.
The Explorers do have a number of banners hanging from the ceiling "" numerous NCAA and NIT appearances as well as some Atlantic-10 conference titles "" which always look nice, especially in a smaller gym. The gym is, as I said, clean and well-lit, and at 13 years-old the arena has been kept in excellent shape and well-maintained. The new video boards at both ends of the court are close to the action but not out of place in a modern-looking building, and the ability to play pump-up videos is always helpful for a good game-day experience.
Just like Temple, another inner-city school just a few miles down North Broad Street, there really isn't much around La Salle University that's worth staying around for.
The Explorers averaged just over 2000 fans per game in 2010-2011, which is only about 50% of the arena. Official figures are not out for this season, but La Salle drew 1700 for the game I attended "" a non-conference game against Boston University over winter break, not exactly ideal conditions for fans but not a bad showing either. The Explorers have really turned their program around this season thanks to some transfers (both in and out), and continued success will help awaken a long-dormant and very hungry La Salle fan base.
There is a large, free parking lot right in front of Gola, with additional free parking nearby. There is also the Olney subway stop at Broad and Olney, just a few blocks from campus, which provides access to the Broad Street subway line. The Olney stop should be used with caution, and I would recommend not traveling there alone, especially at night. The bathrooms are large and clean and right inside the arena, which is very convenient.
Though the Explorers haven't won a national title in half a century, they're headed in the right direction and are an exciting program on the rise in Philadelphia. The way that coach John Giannini has put his team together, the Explorers look to be competitive for the next few seasons, making them a team worth watching. Tickets run either $15 (for the Gold seats) or $10 (for Blue seats), though with such a small gym there really are no bad seats. With Atlantic-10 opponents like Xavier, Saint Joseph's, Dayton, and Temple visiting Gola Arena, the quality of basketball is very high for such a small arena.
Two points for each of the video boards, which are really a great thing to have and, if used correctly, could really boost the Explorer homefield advantage. I'm not really sure what the third point is exactly for, but it has something to do with the entrance. I always love gyms where you come in at floor-level, and coming into Gola while the players are warming up just a few feet away make it hard to stop your heart from pounding just a little bit.
Great college old time gym (even though it is fairly new).
Now that they are winning again the crowd is into it.
Do not take the subway unless you are armed!!!
I found the food above average.
Food and Beverage: Average, not overpriced, but located only in one spot in the gym.
Atmosphere: La Salle's atmosphere at Gola Arena is average at best and does not compare favorably to its Philly rivals. Definitely more of a high school gym vibe here as there are only seats along the sides of the court, no seats behind the baseline. There is not really much that stands out. Though the gym is relatively new (1998), it has no bells and whistles and feels like it was built on the cheap. They could have done better, I think, if the court was positioned differently.
Neighborhood: More than likely you'll be coming to see the game and getting back on the road to head back wherever you came from afterword. There is nothing noteworthy or worth sticking around for, as the neighborhood is pretty undesirable.
Fans: Fans vary here from laid back and passive to intense and angry. For most games, the student section is pretty disorganized and benign. For the Temple game (La Salle's North Philadelphia rival) the student section was packed and loud, but also uncreatively chanting vulgarities ("F*&k you Temple", clap clap clapclapclap) or throwing various objects, bottles, etc at the opponents section. Rivalry games seem to bring out the best, but mostly worst in the student section.
Access: La Salle is best accessed by Roosevelt Blvd (US-1) or Broad St and via some pretty sketchy areas. If not familiar with the area, definitely make sure you have some solid directions and you now where you are going. There is a free parking lot in front of the gym but it fills quickly and can be a mess to get out of after the game. There is another free campus lot across Wister St but it also can fill up during weekday games, though weekends seem to be fine. There is very limited on street parking and it is not advisable to venture more than a few blocks from the edge of campus. There is a subway stop at Broad and Olney, but this is not a good area and not something I'd want to try. Supposedly there is a free parking lot at the Shoppes at La Salle and a free shuttle though I've never tried it.
Once at Gola, there is only one way in and one way out at the south entrance to the gym, so it is a complete bottleneck/clusterf*^k when trying to leave at the end of the game.
Return on Investment: Seats start at $10 ($15 for Big 5 games), the cheapest ticket for any of the six college hoops programs in Philly. $15 will get you a "better" seat, although there are not really any bad seats here. Most seats are rollback bleachers, there are only a small seats with backs and I'd assume these are season ticket holders. Though I was not impressed by the venue or the atmosphere, the Explorers have rebounded on the court with a competitive team, so its at least a good product. Because the price of food and admission is low, and parking is free, it makes La Salle basketball worth going back to see again.
Extras: Extra points for the brand new video boards installed midway through this season. Due to the space confines, the boards are awkwardly placed, so when the action is going on, the boards show very useful stats (either players stats including points, rebounds, assists, or team stats including shooting %, free throw %, rebounds, etc.) I though this was pretty cool.
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