Tom Konchalski, who spent decades as the best high school basketball scout in the country, died Monday at 74.
“He was a saint,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said, according to a tweet from sports writer Pete Thamel. “There was something divine about his work and about him. He was truly beloved and respected by this basketball community for decades. He should be in the Hall of Fame, really, as a great contributor to the game.”
An outpouring of tributes followed the news of Konchalski’s death from cancer. The Forest Hills resident spent his final days at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx.
He wrote for High School Basketball Illustrated since 1979 and became the owner in 1984 when he bought it from its founder, Howard Garfinkel. Despite its name, the reports, written on Konchalski’s typewriter, did not contain photos.
The player summaries were mailed 16 times a year to more than 200 college coaches who subscribed. He didn’t sell it to fans and writers, though John Feinstein said he was on Konchalski’s list — free of charge — in a Washington Post column.
Konchalski, who retired last May, did not own a computer or a cell phone. He didn’t drive and he got rid of his answering machine after six months because he was constantly returning calls.
Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino once called him “the single toughest person in the world to reach.”
Konchalski grew up in Elmhurst and attended Archbishop Molloy High School. 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.
At 6-foot-6, Konchalski stood out and he could always be seen with his black leather binder and yellow notepad, watching from the top of the bleachers.
His firm, seemingly never-ending handshake was also a staple.
“As he crushed my hand, he told me that I could be a great player one day,” Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris tweeted about meeting him at an 11U All-Star game. “Tom was a legend to all young kids, especially in the NYC area. I remember guys on the team asking, ‘what he say to you?’ He had that type of impact.”
Part of the awe Konchalski inspired in people was because of his seemingly photographic memory.
“So glad he called me last night and we had a chance to chat one last time,” tweeted Steve Smith, head coach at Oak Hill Basketball Academy in Virginia. “What a great basketball mind and greater person. As I’m sure he has done with so many people, he reminded me we met on February 10, 1984.”
In addition to his recall of dates, games, scores and rosters, there was also the descriptive language of his reports.
A player using the glass “shoots more bankers than Bonnie and Clyde.”
One who would absorb contact “takes more charges than Mastercard.”
And a player who could jump high “logs more miles than United.”
“Whatever he said was gospel as far as recruiting players,” former Farleigh Dickinson University and CCNY head coach Tom Green told the Chronicle last May, adding, “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.”
His many friends are hoping that he will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When candidates were announced last December, Konchalski was listed on the contributor nomination list.
His eye for basketball came strictly from watching, not playing. Konchalski would joke that “the most athletic thing I ever did was jump to a conclusion.”
The scout, known as “The Glider” for moving in and out of places without trying to draw attention, had some life advice when he retired.
“The way you live your life is you live your life trying to help your fellow man,” Konchalski told the Chronicle. “And this is whether you’re religious or not. Without doing that life is very cold and meaningless.”
Konchalski is survived by his brother Steve, a head coach at St. Francis Xavier University in Canada since 1975.