“His positive spirit was the lifeforce that bound together a complex system of players, coaches, fans, media, scouts and so many others. He is a man the world needs to honor.”
My greatest impression of Tom Konchalski is that he was a giant. I’m now realizing it had to do with so much more than his height.
He was 6’6″, and when he came up to receive Holy Communion — always on the tongue — he’d bend down just a bit and close his eyes and open his mouth and I’d have to stretch my 5’7″ height and stand on my toes to give him the host. Most people, I imagine, didn’t know his name or his reputation. All they knew was “that really tall guy at Mass every morning.”
He was a daily communicant at my parish, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, Queens. On Wednesday, I got a call from his longtime friend (and ace Catholic media photographer) Greg Shemitz, telling me that Tom Konchalski had died. Greg wanted to talk about funeral arrangements.
A few hours later, I spent some time online, reading about Tom. He really was a giant — a faithful and devoted Catholic who lived the humblest life and loved basketball and finding and nurturing young talent.
And the sport he loved loved him back.
This was posted in our diocesan newspaper, The Tablet:
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.”
That was just the beginning. Other tributes have poured in. From New York Magazine:
In a crowded scouting marketplace, Konchalski carved out a niche for himself, telling New York in 2010 that “I don’t have any grand plans to conquer the world. I go to the games I want to go to and if that can support me, fine.”
He also stood out by being, by absolutely all accounts, a good and decent guy — a rare thing in the often-sleazy world of recruiting. Konchalski’s friend Seth Davis, a reporter for the Athletic, used to call him “the only honest man in the gym,” and in the hours following Konchalski’s death, the biggest names in the sport praised not just his contributions to basketball, but his character. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski called him “a saint.” Villanova’s Wright called him a “good soul.” Kentucky’s John Calipari called him “one of the best human beings I have ever come across in my lifetime.”
In his remembrance, Krzyzewski also said that Konchalski deserves a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s eligible for the first time this year.
From Dan Grunfeld in BasketballNews.com:
Tom Konchalski, the rail-thin 6-foot-6 patron saint of basketball, a lifelong native of Queens, New York and a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily, is regarded as the most respected evaluator of high school basketball talent in history. He nurtured countless New York City ball-players and helped change countless lives through basketball. My dad, Ernie, was one of the first New York City kids Tom discovered. He was like family to us. He looked after me as a young player just like he had looked after my dad.
Last week, Tom was transitioned to hospice care as he privately battled cancer. The basketball community was rocked by the news. On Monday, amidst an outpouring of prayers, Tom passed away, leaving the basketball world heartbroken and leaving behind one of basketball’s holiest legacies.
Since Tom’s death, condolences have poured in from every corner of the globe. Friends and admirers have shared stories of Tom’s kindness, grace and humanity. He’s been affectionately referred to by his nickname, “The Glider,” a moniker given by college coaches for how quietly Tom moved in and out of gyms. Tom’s quirks have been described with love – that he didn’t own a cell phone or answering machine, that he never learned to drive, that he didn’t use a computer, that he produced his iconic scouting newsletter on a typewriter, that he had a photographic memory and a legendary handshake.
When the Naismith Basketball Memorial Hall of Fame Class of 2021’s eligible candidates were announced in December, Tom Konchalski’s name was on the list. He was a first-time nominee eligible to be inducted as a contributor to the game of basketball. Tom Konchalski may be a first-time nominee, but he belongs in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, period.
And he adds this:
Though my grandpa passed away in 1986, Tom still called my grandma several times a year. In fact, he had called her every Yom Kippur for the last 50 years. Not every other Yom Kippur and not 48 out of 50 Yom Kippurs. He called her on that day every single year for half of a century. It’s telling that, as a true man of God, Tom made a point to check in on my Holocaust-surviving grandmother on the year’s most important Jewish holiday. It’s also telling that, over such a long period of time, he did not once miss an opportunity to do so.
Tom’s love for the game of basketball, its people and its places was divine. He was basketball’s heart. His positive spirit was the lifeforce that bound together a complex system of players, coaches, fans, media, scouts and so many others. He is a man the world needs to honor. He is a man who belongs in basketball’s most hallowed hall for eternity. He is a Hall-of-Famer in every sense of the word.
…Looking back, I wish I would have told him that I love and appreciate him. I wish I would have told him that I admire him. I wish I would have told him that his memory will always be a blessing, far beyond the game of basketball, and that the rightful last stop of his remarkable journey here on earth should be the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The world needs more men like Tom Konchalski. Pray for him.
And Tom: please pray for us.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…