Tom Konchalski: Some things you may not know

Marvin Westwestwords

On some nights, Tom Konchalski was the only white guy in the gym.

A friend said “He knew more African-Americans than Al Sharpton.”


Famous basketball names will be honored this summer with hall of fame enshrinement.

The list includes winningest coach in NCAA history Mike Krzyzewski, 14-time NBA all-star Dirk Nowitzki, Jim Valvano of “Never give up” fame and the U.S. women’s basketball team from the 1976 Olympics.

It included Pat Summitt.

There are others, a great group, impressive individuals with many accomplishments.

Down near the bottom of the list, with a lifetime achievement award, is Tom Konchalski. You may have never heard of him. He was not a player or coach or even a referee but he gave 43 years to the game.

He evaluated high school players from New York to Georgia and recommended them for scholarships at schools where their talents fit. He managed the Five-Star Basketball Camp, which showcased talent the likes of Michael Jordan when he was still called Mike, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, among many others.

Konchalski lived in New York City and didn’t often travel far but went wherever he had a reason. The Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina, was one of his favorite trips – 24 teams, four days. That’s where he met David Moss.

Sixteen times a year Tom typed up a comprehensive newsletter of scouting details. It was a labor of love. He paid to have them printed. He addressed envelopes by hand, put in his handiwork and stuck on the stamps. Sales were restricted to a few hundred coaches, $375 a year.

They praised his accuracy and respected his devotion. Some found some tips very valuable. Coaches at smaller schools with smaller recruiting budgets considered the insight critical. Parents were forever grateful. Boys grew into men but never forgot they had been helped.

Tom had Tennessee connections. He told fellow New Yorker Stu Aberdeen about Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King. Before that, Tom’s older brother, Steve, played for Stu when they won the Canadian national championship at Acadia College in Nova Scotia.

Stu at Tennessee as Ray Mears’ associate coach made a strong impression.

“If you had someone come from France who was fluent in English but knew nothing about basketball culture, and you put the visitor in a room with Bob Knight, Dean Smith, Hubie Brown and Aberdeen for an hour and told him to observe and listen, then said one of those is fabulously successful, tell me which one, I guarantee you the Frenchman would have picked Stu.”

Konchalski was of Polish descent. He was a graduate of Fordham University, magna cum laude, with degrees in political science and philosophy. He was 6-6 but didn’t play. He said his only jumps were to the occasional wrong conclusion.

For a decade, he was a high school math teacher – bored to tears.

He was a bachelor, wed to basketball.

“Basketball is a game of surpassing grace and beauty. It’s played by the greatest athletes in the world. Growing up in New York City in the late ’50s and early ’60s, how could you not fall in love with the game?”

Tom was a devout Catholic who lived his faith. He was quaint. His home was forever a one-room apartment. He functioned with yellow note pads, Bic ball-point pens and public transportation. He never owned a computer or a car.

For 30 years he purchased inked ribbons from the same Manhattan office supply salesman who sold him a typewriter in 1984.

A favorite prank by friends was to ask Tom for his new cell phone number.

His answer was always “You know I’ve never had one of those things.”

Konchalski assisted Aberdeen, showing up at games on Tennessee’s behalf. Friends called him “Tennessee Tom.”

He really was a Volunteer, assisting in the recruitment of Ernie G.

Grunfeld says, “My parents listened to him because they trusted him.”

Tom died a couple of years ago at age 74. Many basketball people cared deeply.

“There are basketball gods that send down angels to do their work,” Krzyzewksi said. “Tom was one of the angels. It was never about him; it was about those kids and the game.

“And the game of basketball is better as a result of Tom Konchalski. I don’t know if there’s anyone like him or will ever be anyone like him. I treasured the times that we were together.”

Konchalski saw Grunfeld’s first game of organized basketball, with a team in a Catholic Youth Organization league, and almost perfectly forecast his development.

He was stunned by his first look at King on a playground. Bernard was much better than the older guys around him.

Bernard was the crown of Konchalski’s legacy. Konchalski spent some time with him. He called Stu and recommended Tennessee offer a scholarship. Aberdeen virtually moved to New York and landed the greatest forward in school history – without having seen him play.

Konchalski picked an all-time New York City team: “The guards were Tiny Archibald and Bob Cousy. Frontcourt would obviously be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Connie Hawkins. I put Bernard King on it.”

The late David Moss was a more personal story.

“He impacted my life,” Konchalski said. “He was one of the finest people I ever met.”

Tom saw Moss in 1973 and pointed him to Tennessee. David’s leaping ability made a strong first impression on the Volunteers. At the end of his freshman year, Moss noticed a bruise on his hip that wasn’t healing. Tests were taken. Doctors agreed it was bone cancer. His entire right leg had to be removed. Moss was 18.

Konchalski shared the heartbreak. When David died in 1980, Tom wept.

“He was just a wonderful person.”

Konchalski had a story I had never heard.

“When David was growing up, there was a kid in his class who was a bully. David would fight him on behalf of other kids. Years later, David learned his former foe was in jail. He didn’t hesitate to visit him ‘because he needed someone.’”

Konchalski repeated a Moss story I know to be true. After the cancer diagnosis, on the way to the hospital to have his leg removed, David didn’t worry about himself. He was concerned about whether his mother was comfortable in the back seat of coach Ray Mears’ car.

“That’s the kind of young man he was,” said Konchalski. “He was one of my heroes.”

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

0 Comments on “Tom Konchalski: Some things you may not know”

  1. Pingback: Tom Konchalski: Some things you might not know

  2. Pingback: Vol Stuff by Marlon McKinney – June 27 – Off The Hook Sports with Dave Hooker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *