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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Legendary Basketball Scout Tom Konchalski Should Be Named To Naismith Hall Of Fame

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About a year ago at this time, a friend of Tom Konchalski’s asked him to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of his late former work partner Howard Garfinkel for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Konchalski proceeded to write an impactful and moving letter in Garfinkel’s honor, never once mentioning that he himself was being considered for nomination to the Hall of Fame as well.

It was classic Tom. So quiet, humble and proper.

Now three months after he passed from prostate cancer at 74 on Feb. 8, Konchalski has missed out on being posthumously named a member of the Hall of Fame’s 2021 class as a contributor.

Known for a handshake that drew you in from across the room and seemed to last forever, a phenomenal ability to remember names, dates and statistics from years ago and a humble yet outgoing persona, the 6-foot-6 Konchalski was the most trusted basketball talent evaluator in the nation for close to half a century. Seth Davis of CBS Sports nicknamed him “The Last Honest Man in the Gym.”

Konchalski will was not enshrined alongside many of the players he scouted over the years: from Lew Alcindor (who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to Bernard King to Chris Mullin to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James, who will join the others after he retires.

Howard Garfinkel, Konchalski’s former partner in the Five Star Basketball Camp, was named as a contributor.

“What they did together will never be duplicated, that’s why Tom and Howard should be in the Naimsith Hall of Fame as contributors,” Duke coach and former U.S. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski said last month on a Zoom call honoring Konchalski. “There’s no one who’s touched more kids and helped more coaches in the history of the game than Tom Konchalski.”

He added: “No one was more kind, and…when you were with him, you felt you were the most important person in the room. I loved Tom Konchalski, I loved him and there will never be a replacement for him.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Konchalski. “He was one of the nicest people, never heard anyone say a bad word about him. I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anybody….He was truly special and a saint, literally a saint.

“He’s going to be missed. It’s an era, with he and Garf, it’s an era gone by. Damon Runyon figures who have big hearts and were about everybody else. Tom as truly about everybody else.”

Born in Manhattan on January 8, 1947, Konchalski moved with his brother Steve and their parents to East Elmhurst, Queens, and then to Elmhurst in the 1950s. While Steve pursued basketball and won a national championship at Acadia College in 1965, Tom became a Catholic school math teacher. He said he was never very good at basketball despite his height and joked to the New York Times

in 2013 that his career as a scout was “revenge for that.”

“I like to say that the only thing I’ve ever jumped to in my life is a conclusion,” he said.

He quit teaching math in 1979 to work full time for Garfinkel, the legendary scout who founded the High School Basketball Illustrated magazine but sold it to Konchalski in 1984. “Garf,” a colorful character who loved to smoke cigars and bet on the ponies as much as he liked being around basketball, died in 2016 at 86.

“There are basketball gods, and they send down angels to do their work,” Krzyzewksi told filmmaker Jonathan Hock about Tom before his passing. “He’s one of them. It’s not about him; it’s about those kids and the game. And the game of basketball is better as a result of Tom Konchalski…I don’t know if there’s anyone like him or will be anyone like him and I treasured the times that we were together.”

Tom never had a cellphone, a computer or a driver’s license. He often took trains or buses to events and had others drive him around. While sitting in the top row of the bleachers, he evaluated talent from New York to Virginia, always jotting down notes by hand on yellow legal pads. Those pads and the swintec typewriter on which he produced his reports were rescued from his apartment and will be part of his display at the Hall of Fame.

Coach K said that he used Konchalski’s High School Basketball Illustrated at Army when he was recruiting players rated as 1- and 2-stars and then at Duke when he scouted 4- and 5-stars.

“You got a lot of leads,” he said on the Zoom. “His reports were detailed and they were of immense help to me, especially when I was the Army coach. Once I got to be the Duke coach and we were at camps, talking to him helped more than the reports, because the you zeroed in on fewer guys. And I didn’t want to read about them, I wanted to hear about them from him.”

Coach K recalled how college coaches would “inch” toward Konchalski during games at the famed Five-Star Basketball Camp in order to get his insight on players, but Tom “would not look at you” because he was zeroed in on watching the players.

“The most popular guy in the room,” Coach K said. “If it was a dance, his dance card would be all full.”

Added Calipari: “Before you took a kid, you went to Tom and said. Tell me what you think. Tell me what you think about this kid.’

“Tom’s evaluation was to help the young man but also to make sure that he was going where he belonged, but also where he could have success and help the coach.”

Konchalski was a devout Catholic who would often ask his driver to drop him off at church during the Peach Jam or another basketball event (I did it many times).

“I always thought he would be a helluva priest,” Coach K said. “And in reading about this, that’s what he was.”

Krzyzewski said it would be almost impossible to count the number of players Konchalski helped over the years by matching them with the right level of college for a scholarship. If you added up all the scholarship dollars he accounted for, it might be impossible to count.

“He has literally touched thousands and thousands of guys,” Coach K said. “Young men, coaches, parents. He made sure that people were made aware of every level of performance of kids.

“Imagine how much money through scholarships he was able to earn for people through his scouting report. Unbelievable. And you when you start putting numbers like that together, sometimes it’s tough to quantify the importance of a person. With him, it’s impossible. It’s absolutely incredible.”

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