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TOM KONCHALSKI: Extraordinary grassroots basketball icon, scout but better man, dies at 74 after long illness

BENSALEM, Pa. – No one commanded the respect in an industry fraught with pretenders than Tom Konchalski. During the halcyon days of grassroots basketball, Tom was one of the few basketball scouts on the scene and quickly developed a reputation of integrity and honesty.

Known for his firm-gripped handshakes, photographic memory, encyclopedic recall of players, dates, statistics and other seemingly inane information that was Tom to the core. He was a birddog when he was the only one of that ilk in the gymnasium or on the outdoor courts at camp in Honesdale, Pa.

Last week when it was learned that Tom entered a hospice care facility in Bronx, New York as he entered the final days of a two-year battle with metastatic cancer, the basketball world was bracing for the worst.

That news was delivered Monday afternoon when Tom passed away at 74.

Simply put he was a basketball icon and the most honest, trustworthy voice in a business that has become rife with unsavory characters in recent years. The college coaching fraternity were his friends and trusted his opinions and views on players.

Mr. Konchalski grew up in Queens, N.Y. He was a Catholic altar boy, attended Archbishop Molloy High School (think legendary coach Jack Curran) and Fordham University. He did not play basketball at Molloy but was a basketball lifer from an early age. Mr. Konchalski taught eighth grade mathematics and history before retirement.

Howard Garfinkel, of Five-Star Basketball Camp fame, gave Mr. Konchalski his start in the early 1970s. Mr. Konchalski scouted and prepared the High School Basketball Illustrated (HSBI), a newsletter subscribed by nearly every college coach. He possessed the uncanny ability to connect the dots with everyone and helped thousands of young men find a college or set them on a career path.

Today the social mediums blew up with praise from former and present players, coaches, friends and colleagues. Everyone who knew Mr. Konchalski has a meaningful story and thanks.

Few were as universally beloved as Mr. Konchalski and there’s doubt we will ever see a man from that mold again.

It was commonly known that Mr. Konchalski did not have a cellular phone. Email was not a part of his life nor was a computer. He never learned to drive and commuted to work and New York City gyns via subway or bus from his Forest Hills, Queens apartment. Forget about leaving a voice message—although for a brief time he did have an answering machine but that too went away.

Personally, Mr. Konchalski was all business in the gym. When he entered the room, you knew you were at the right game. He opted for the last row of the bleachers and jotted his notes on yellow legal pads. His handwriting might as well have been Ancient Sanskrit and his statistics were spot on. He eye for talent and attention to minute details put him in the clouds, leaving everyone on terra firma.

When I joined the national basketball scene in the early 1990s, Mr. Konchalski conversed with me at the ABCD Camp, New York City Catholic League championship, PSAL championship at Madison Square Garden, Slam Dunk to the Beach in Delaware, Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina or the McDonald’s All-American Game (he was an original committee member).

Just before the action started he politely said, “Excuse me, Chris, but I must go to work now.” That was a subtle, friendly hint to get lost.

I once gave him a ride back to Penn Station in New York on a late night drive from Trenton, N.J, As I drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, the train station was a few blocks away. Our conversation for the 90-minute drive rarely touched on basketball. Just before I pulled up we were talking about computer when kiddingly said “I’m a Luddite.”

Enter a pregnant pause.

What? Who?

“Chris, that’s your homework assignment tonight; look it up,” he said,

That might explain the lack of modern technology in his life. True story: He used a manual typewriter to prepare the HSBI and then would hand mail it. Mr. Konchalski retired from scouting last May when health issues sidelined him.

You often wonder if Mr. Konchalski was a scout for God. He was a devout Catholic who attended daily Mass and always checked the boxes of moral character. He gave the same respect to the man on the street as did to Hall of Fame coach.

At 6 feet 6 inches, he was a moral compass and gentle giant. The kind, encouraging words he delivered while shaking hands, locking eyes carried many through a tough day or troubled times. He dripped with modesty and sincerity.

Perhaps a final tribute goes something like this: If there were more people like Tom Konchalski there would be no need for law enforcement or a military. He left the world and this segment of industry a far better place.

Senior Writer and national analyst for Blue Media and compiles the Blue Star Elite 25 national boys and girls high school basketball and football rankings during the season. Lawlor, an award-winning writer, is a voting committee member and advisor for several national high school events, including the McDonald’s All-American Games. He previously wrote for USA TODAY and ESPN.com, where he was the national preps writer, while compiling the national rankings in four sports.

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