The sport of basketball lost one of its better angels on Monday when Tom Konchalski passed away at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.
There are countless people — basketball players and coaches and their families over the course of many decades — who encountered Konchalski and saw their lives made better for it.
Professionally, he was an extraordinary evaluator of basketball talent and the editor and publisher of High School Basketball Illustrated, a must-read for coaches at every level of college basketball.
He also was a kind and trusted counselor, a historian of New York-area basketball, and is remembered by many as a great friend.
"I first met him in 1984 at the Madison Square Boys Club when I was an assistant coach at Division III Rochester and I went and introduced myself," Villanova coach Jay Wright told Newsday. "He shook my hand — he had a handshake you never forgot — and he began the conversation by saying, ‘You had a great career at Bucknell.’ He treated me as kindly when I was a 23-year-old Division III assistant as he did when I was coach at Villanova."
Konchalski grew up in Queens and attended Archbishop Molloy High School and Fordham University, where he graduated magna cum laude with degrees in philosophy and political science.
Though he stood a slender 6-6, he never played basketball. He told The New York Times that his passion for basketball was sparked while watching Connie Hawkins play a summer league game at a Brooklyn park in 1959. He gave up being a math teacher in 1979 to join talent scout Howard Garfinkel, founder of the Five-Star basketball camps, with HSBI. In 1984, Garfinkel sold it to Konchalski.
Konchalski had a gift for describing a player. Jamal Mashburn had "the body of a blacksmith and the touch of a surgeon." Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, he said "deals like Trump, dishes like Julia Child and delivers like Domino’s." He said Kareem Reid, who went on to play at Arkansas, had "the metabolism of a hummingbird"; described Lee Green, who went on to St. John’s, as "Evel Knievel without the motorcycle," and once said of Kenny Anderson’s college prospects: "Only the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are ahead of him."
Of former St. Mary’s guard Joel Suarez, Konchalski said, "he scores as we breathe." He said of another player: "He’s no match for the Earth’s gravitational pull."
Konchalski saw as many games and players as he could up and down the Northeast corridor and at big national events, even though he never learned to drive. He relied on a massive network of friends he made in the basketball community and on public transportation.
He wrote about as many players as he could in HSBI, and not just those who would go on to play for the blue-blood programs and professionally.
"People used to call him ‘The Glider’ because he would slip into a gym unnoticed, find a spot up high and take his notes on that yellow pad," said Rob Pavinelli, who coached St. Dominic through many powerhouse years from 1995-2010. "You could always count on him at the big games. He was good to so many people."
"Sure, there were the McDonald’s All-Americans, but he did an enormous service to those who coached the smaller Division I programs and in Division II and III and so many who ended up playing for them," Wright said.
"When you’re Division II or III, you don’t have the resources to go out and evaluate all these guys numerous times. He would do that. And he’s the guy you trust . . . Division II and Division III?The pool is vast and he’d seen everybody and you could take a kid sight unseen on his word. You could call him and he’d say, ‘I’ve seen him, I know your league and team and he would be a very good fit.’ "
Konchalski never had an unkind word about any player. Rather than tell a coach an athlete had a deficiency, he’d simply say, "He wasn’t a good fit."
"Countless players have gone on to get scholarships and educations because of him," said Tim Cluess, who coached at St. Mary’s, Division II LIU Post and Iona. "He was such a caring guy."
Those who knew Konchalski marveled at his incredible memory for faces, names and members of your family and the way he took notes, lefthanded, writing on his pad from bottom to top. Konchalski never had a cellphone or VCR or answering machine. He typed HSBI on a typewriter and sent it by mail.
"And he had so many things he could tell you about the history of New York basketball and everyone you should be recruiting," Wright said. "If you were fortunate enough to be giving him a ride to or from a game, it was gold."