The best basketball scout worked without a cell phone or a computer. He didn’t drive to games and he wrote all of his reports on a typewriter in his Forest Hills home.
Tom Konchalski, the editor of High School Basketball Illustrated since buying it from founder Howard Garfinkel in 1984, retired due to health reasons.
There are plenty of memories. Some favorites include Oscar Robertson scoring 50 points for Cincinnati in the 1959 Holiday Festival, Connie Hawkins winning MVP of the High School All-American Game in 1960 and a 1983 battle between Mark Jackson’s Bishop Loughlin team and Kenny Smith’s Archbishop Molloy squad. “Those are games but more than anything else my favorite memory is the time I’ve spent with the people who have played the game and the people who have coached the game and the many friendships I’ve developed with them,” Konchalski said.
Several books could be filled with stories of players and coaches’ lives that were impacted by Konchalski. “I think in a small way I’m trying to help people, mainly the kids,” he said. “Because in the basketball equation the kids are the more vulnerable variable.”
Erik Smiles was playing in a tournament in 1996 when Konchalski recommended him to Farmingdale State head coach Bruce Webster, who had a scholarship to give and was looking for a small forward. Based largely on the recommendation, he was offered the scholarship.
“Think about how many other Erik Smiles there are that go to D2 and D3’s off his word over the last 40 years. How many are there like me?” Smiles said.
In 2003, Smiles was an assistant coach and saw Konchalski. “Tom remembered me, which is amazing because I was a Division II player, I was not a big time guy ... and he remembered from seven years prior,” Smiles said. “I am just one of a million kids that he’s seen.”
Smiles credited him for succeeding with subway tokens, MetroCards, bus schedules and a typewriter. “How many people don’t adjust to the times and survive? This guy survived how many changes since 1970, technologically and socially? And survived as one of the best, if not the best, service out there,” Smiles said.
Calling Konchalski the “gold standard,” Smiles said coaches trusted his judgement and his reports that would go over a player’s athleticism, skill set and intangibles without being influenced by the hype surrounding a player.
The 6-foot-6 Konchalski stood out in a crowd with his familiar black leather binder and yellow notepad. And there was always the firm handshake he would give everyone. Konchalski grew up as a basketball junkie in Elmhurst and attended Molloy. After graduating from Fordham he became a Catholic school math teacher and CYO coach but left his teaching job to become a full-time scout for Garfinkel.
Basketball scouting culture today with its internet culture and immediate access is far different than what Konchalski did. He said more emphasis is placed on which colleges a high school player is interested in than evaluating his actual skills. “The culture we live in, a culture that demands immediate gratification and immediate information,” Konchalski said. “In terms of doing a scouting service, I really wouldn’t recommend it to anyone now.”
He still loves the game but there are parts of it he doesn’t like. He believes winning isn’t the primary goal for many players who are more interested in putting their individual talents on display. Another problem is the constant transferring from school to school, which has become prevalent in the last 10 years. “We live in a culture where loyalty has been forgotten,” Konchalski said. “Royalty starts with loyalty.”
He lamented kids’ receiving one scholarship offer then leaving when a different one comes along. “I know I’m very old-fashioned but I don’t want to change in that regard,” Konchalski said. “If that’s the modern game, I don’t want to adapt to it.”
Bill Mitaritonna, former head coach at Half Hollow Hills West High School on Long Island, said Konchalski is “a national treasure not just a New York treasure,” adding, “He commands all this respect but he’s so humble about it.”
Mitaritonna credits Konchalski’s direct approach for his success as a scout. He recalled a loss where Konchalski told him that Hills West would have likely won if a player shot better. “It was as simple as that,” Mitaritonna said. “For me as a coach, I always try to overanalyze. He had an honest way of looking at the game. ”
Konchalski would amaze people with his memory. Mitaritonna’s father met him and conversed about Brooklyn public school basketball in the 1950s, with the scout rattling off names and statistics. “My dad couldn’t believe Tom knew that much,” Mitaritonna said.
Forest Hills High School head coach Ben Chobhaphand credited Konchalski’s memory and seeing teams multiple times for his on-the-money predictions. “He didn’t rush to judgment on a player’s talent,” Chobhaphand said. “He knew every kid, even the sixth and seventh guy on the team.”
Another reason coaches enjoyed reading Konchalski’s reports was his picturesque descriptions of players.
A player who could jump high “logs more miles than United.”
One who would absorb contact “takes more charges than Mastercard.”
A player using the glass “shoots more bankers than Bonnie and Clyde.”
Someone able to put up a lot of points “Scores like we breathe.”
And a big player was “a mountain masquerading as a man.”
Konchalski would arrive at games early to speak to coaches and to observe the practice and workout habits of players.
Former Farleigh Dickinson University and CCNY head coach Tom Green praised the scout. “Whatever he said was gospel as far as recruiting players,” Green said.
The coach said Konchalski honed his skill, evaluating players from the time he was young. “I don’t think there will ever be too many Tom Konchalskis out there,” Green said. “As a coach subscribing to a multitude of scouting services I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody that was so right-on with evaluating a young man’s talents.”
Though his scouting days are over, he does have life advice.
“The way you live your life is you live your life trying to help your fellow man,” Konchalski said. “And this is whether you’re religious or not. Without doing that life is very cold and meaningless.”