Legendary batsman Tom Konchalski was standing next to one of the many crowded basketball courts inside the Sewall Center, on the campus of Robert Morris University. He was easy to spot. It can be a challenge to locate him in a crowd of players, but among the few reporters who gather to watch the action on the Five Star Basketball Court, someone 6 to 6 years old will certainly rise above the crowd.
Konchalski was also standing above other scouts. Few have ever had the same interest in talent, so it separates a good high school basketball player from a great college basketball perspective. The Hall of Fame coaches sought your opinion. All-Star players remembered how he discovered them.
That day in July 2000, I was visiting Pittsburgh with my wife to spend a few days with family and friends. She was shopping with her sister and our niece, so I had an afternoon to sneak into the five-star basketball court and enjoy the hoop scene. But I only had the afternoon. We met later for dinner, and disappearing was not an option.
"You have to see this young man, LeBron James," Konchalski told me as I squeezed in beside him.
"Really? OK, when does he play? What court?
"He doesn't play again until tonight. You need to see him," he said.
The urgency with which he issued this statement made it clear that I would miss something extraordinary, even historic. It was like being told by the New York Times theater critic that you had to watch a performance of "Hamilton" at the Public Theater before you hit Broadway and everyone found out.
Even so, many years ago, I had been married long enough to understand that an afternoon hall pass expired when the afternoon was over. Konchalski looked almost defeated. He knew how I would have enjoyed that moment.
Now 73, Konchalski is retiring from his life's work of publishing the HSBI Report, the scouting service to which most of the college's top basketball coaches have signed up, and which has taken him on a journey for more than 40 years and thousands of kilometers, none of them. that he directed.
Born in New York, Konchalski never owned a car, using public transport for many of his trips. He also never bothered to learn to use a computer and does not carry a cell phone. He composed his observation reports using a typewriter. He compiles them for technicians to examine and use, not for public distribution.
"Tom is one of the best and smartest human beings on the planet," Mike Krzyzewski, Duke coach, told Sporting News. "His instant memory of players, coaches, games and events is unmatched. He helped thousands of players have the opportunity to play college basketball at all levels. Every young person he spoke to was important. With Five-Basketball Basketball Camp, Tom and Howard Garfinkel have created an experience for players and coaches that will not be duplicated. Tom is a real gift for the basketball game ".
Konchalski fell in love with the game by watching Connie Hawkins in the late 1950s and completed his last reports in a year that will produce future stars like Cade Cunningham and B.J.Boston. In the midst of this, he watched Michael Jordan, who is currently being celebrated in "The Last Dance", a series of epic documentaries on ESPN. Jordan entered a five-star camp session on Konchalski's recommendation and ended up as the best player there.
"Tom Konchalski is one of the kindest and most sincere souls in basketball," Villanova coach Jay Wright told Sporting News. “He really lived for others, always revering great players, respecting all players. I think he is the most honest and accurate talent appraiser of all time. Unique, that should never be compared.
Early in Konchalski's career, he helped Tennessee find Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King in New York City. The "Ernie and Bernie Show" remains one of the most revered periods in Vols basketball history, winning an SEC championship in 1977 and five victories in six attempts against SEC power in Kentucky. Not long after that success, in 1979, Konchalski chose to leave his job as a full-time teacher and explorer for Howard Garfinkel, the creator of the five-star camps that owned HSBI. Konchalski bought the service from the man known to all basketball as "Garf" and has continued until now.
Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich told Sporting News that he followed Konchalski's work: “Only for 40 years! I am so sad. There may be more scouting services, but there will never be another Tom Konchalski. He is an icon and truly loved by the whole basketball world. This is the end of an era. "
For the past decade, basketball writer Adam Zagoria has been Konchalski's "driver and roommate", mostly at the annual Nike EYBL at the Peach Jam tournament in North Augusta, S.C.
These are long days, with four to six games taking place simultaneously, and often from 9 am to prime time. Konchalski is so respected that Zagoria used to be frustrated by the mere act of trying to leave the community center gym when the games were over.
"It's 11 am at the end of the day and you want to go out and eat some … and it takes 30 minutes more because everyone wants to talk to him and spend some time with him," Zagoria said SN. "I'm not going to lie: it gets a little frustrating.
“Last year, in the parking lot, we met Jamal Mashburn. He was there to watch his son. Jamal's face lit up when he saw Tom, he couldn't be happier to see him and shake his hand. So we spent another 10 to 15 minutes standing in the dark, listening to Jamal talk about how Tom had observed him and was one of the first people to evaluate him. "
Konchalski has an amazing memory of the players he observed; the players in his reports told stories about how, even decades later, he recognized them and immediately reported on which school he attended and some of his former teammates.
He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of the game. Returning last winter from the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts, a three-day tournament for top high school teams, Konchalski and Zagoria stopped at a restaurant and started discussing where last season's Montverde Academy team, with Cunningham and Florida State- Scottie Barnes, among the best high school teams of all time.
Konchalski told Zagoria that the top three high school teams were the Power Memorial teams, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) from 1963 to 1965. He also cited the Power Memorial team in 1970 with Len Elmore, Jap Trimble and Ed Searcy, in the early 1980s. Baltimore Dunbar teams with Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues and David Wingate and the Jersey City St. Anthony team in 1989 that included Bobby Hurley, Terry Dehere and Jerry Walker.
Zagoria thought it was worth sharing with the world, so he put Konchalski's thoughts on Twitter.
Almost immediately, Zagoria received a response from Oak Hill Academy coach Steve Smith, anxious to know where the best Oak Hill teams could fit into this discussion. When Konchalski spoke, the basketball world was listening.