Longtime high school basketball scout and devout Catholic Tom Konchalski died Feb. 8 at the age of 74 following a two-year battle with cancer. His last days were spent in hospice care at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, where he passed away while saying the Rosary.
An outpouring of tributes has flooded in for Konchalski from college/high school coaches, current/former players, basketball fans/enthusiasts, and really anyone who came in contact with this giant of a man.
“Few people in this world that you meet will be like Tom Konchalski,” said CHSAA President Ray Nash. “He was the consummate Catholic educator and was an incredible role model to everybody, students and adults alike. He’s probably the only guy I’ve ever met in my life that I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about, and I know a lot of people.”
A daily communicant from Forest Hills, Konchalski grew up attending the Church of the Ascension, Elmhurst. He went on to Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, where he fell in love with the game of basketball while learning from the legendary coach Jack Curran.
It’s important to note that despite Konchalski’s 6-foot, 6-inch frame, he’d be the first to say he wasn’t much of a basketball player. Yet being around Curran gave him a genuine appreciation for the city’s game.
“When I grew up in New York City, it was hard not to fall in love with this game,” Konchalski said in 2013 while being inducted into the Basketball Old-Timers of America Hall of Fame at Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope. “For basketball, I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. It was the perfect storm.”
After graduating magna cum laude from Fordham University, the Bronx, he began teaching eighth-grade social studies and math. In 1979, he began working full-time for Howard Garfinkel, founder of both the Five-Star Basketball Camp and the High School Basketball Illustrated (HSBI) newsletter.
Konchalski officially took ownership of the HSBI newsletter in 1984, and over the years, it has been a valuable resource to more than 200 college basketball coaches nationwide — given its detailed analysis of high school student-athletes up and down the East Coast.
“Going to the games is the fun part. Writing the report is the work,” Konchalski told The Tablet. “Basketball is a game of surpassing grace and beauty. It’s played by the best athletes in the world, and it’s been an absolute joy to follow this game for close to 60 years.
“When it’s played as a team game, I think it’s something absolutely beautiful, where it’s people helping other people, and it’s a microcosm of life.”
What’s fascinating is that Konchalski produced and mailed this newsletter 16 times per year without the use of a computer, cellphone, answering machine, or car. He relied on his typewriter, public transportation, rides from friends or coaches, and his photographic memory to provide the evaluations of hundreds of college basketball prospects.
There’s a saying that if Tom Konchalski was at the game you were attending, you were in the right gym. Known as the “Glider” for how he moved in and out of gymnasiums without being noticed at times, Konchalski usually sat in the top row and took detailed notes on a yellow legal pad. For 43 years, those notes helped shape the fate of student-athletes of all talent levels nationwide.
“He (Tom) just didn’t look out for the superstar kids; he looked out for the Division II or Division III players also and dropped a good word for them,” said longtime Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, and Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst, boys’ basketball coach Don Kent. “I’m sure those kids appreciated that.”
In May 2020, Konchalski announced his retirement as his health began to decline. In addition to being included on this year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ballot, he was set to be inducted into the CHSAA Hall of Fame last spring before the ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19. He will be inducted posthumously this year.
Aside from his basketball acumen, Konchalski will be remembered as a kind man with a big heart and a warm, firm handshake who always made the person he was talking to feel like the center of attention.
“After you met Tom, you felt like you were his friend,” said CHSAA boys’ basketball chairman Paul Gilvary. “He was able to do that with so many people. There are an awful lot of people today who consider themselves Tom’s friend. He was a very selfless, humble Catholic gentleman who’s going to be missed greatly.”
“Tom Konchalski was the consummate gentleman,” said Ed Wilkinson, editor emeritus and a former sportswriter for The Tablet. “He was kind, gentle, and always had the best interests of the kids and families that he helped in mind. He helped many kids find basketball scholarships all around the country and better their lives in the process. He was one of a kind, a great big gentle giant of a man.”
In a memorable moment during his Old-Timers’ Hall of Fame speech, Konchalski wowed the crowd with this memory as he rattled off the number of players from each of New York City’s five boroughs who reached the NBA or American Basketball Association.
“There have been 71 players from Brooklyn, 53 from Manhattan, 41 from Queens, 39 from the Bronx, and three from Staten Island!” he said with a smile.
More so, keeping track of these numbers shows exactly how passionate Konchalski was about his work. This true gentleman truly made a difference in so many lives.
Rest in peace Glider.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.