So consistently accurate are Tom Konchalski’s high school basketball scouting reports that his predictive powers have made him “the king of New York City basketball” according to Lawrence (“Bud”) Pollard, Head Coach at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, NY.
“Tom just appears at games — on playgrounds and in gyms, anytime anywhere — and can tell what level a player is going to perform at in terms of college and university. He’s the man.”
Konchalski is hailed by some of the game’s greats as a formative figure. Billy Donovan, Head Coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder has said, “I will always be thankful for Tom Konchalski and what he has meant to the game of basketball”. Mike Krzyzewski, Head Coach of the Duke University Blue Devils, gushes: “The game of basketball is better as a result of Tom Konchalski”. And New York City legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Chris Mullin is quoted: “He wasn’t just seeing the player I was, but the player I would become”. But the best description comes from the acclaimed sports writer John Feinstein, author of The Last Amateurs and other fine sports books, who memorably refers to the basketball super-scout as “the last honest man in the gym”.
It’s the perfect appellation for a gentle man who strides the loud streets New York City with Jesuitical contemplativeness and does so at such a ponderous pace that he is — very much by design — out of step with the fast-paced profession in which he partakes in, and, indeed, much of modern society. The six-foot-six septuagenarian keeps his thin grey hair meticulously combed with a crisp altar-boy part on one side. As for Konchalski’s summertime sartorial style, it might best described as “Lost Tourist”. One day this past summer, as we travelled between Manhattan’s 4th Avenue courts and Hamilton Park in Jersey City, he wore pressed khaki shorts, white sport socks inside clunky white tennis shoes and a yellow golf shirt buttoned to the very top. (His shoulders are so flat and broad that the wire coat hanger on which his golf shirt inevitably hung the night before may have still been tucked inside.)
To the unordained, Konchalski might appear to be a prime target for New York City’s famous pickpockets, but to gauge this man by outward appearances is like judging the Bible by its boring black cover. Spend a few minutes with Tom Konchalski and you feel your life has been enriched. Spend a few days with him and you feel the unmistakable touch of Grace.
For his part, Konchalski insists he’s just a simple, God-fearing guy from Queen’s who loves basketball and is pretty good with words. Trust me: this may be the only time the man has ever lied. Look beyond the modest exterior and quick wit (when asked to confirm his age, Konchalski channels his inner Dangerfield saying, “I’m so old that when I was a kid in school learning History it was called Current Events”) and you find a guy like no one you’ve ever met before…
Konchalski lived with his mother until she died (when he was in his mid-40s), is more religious than most Catholic priests I’ve met, and has an elephantine memory. I experienced his memory-as-parlor-trick, when I inquired about the various phenomenal players he’s seen over the years and asked him to name the greatest. He settled on “Lew” Alcindor (aka, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and proceeded to rattle off Alcindor’s high school senior-year statistics with the ease that I might recite a close friend’s ten-digit phone number. (Konchalski’s memory for personal details is so unfailingly sharp that it sent me scurrying to Google for an explanation — maybe a diagnosis. I came across a relatively rare condition marked by an extremely detailed autobiographical memory: Hyperthymesia. It may just fit.)
Eventually, his unusual lifestyle and incredible memory left me hurling pointed questions and scribbling down the Jeopardy-fast responses that came back to me:
DN: When was the last time you cooked at home?
TK: Twenty years ago.
DN: When was the last time you exercised?
TK: September 23, 1993; I played a game of tennis.
DN: When was the last time you went to church?
TK: Today —twice.
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