Just before Tom Konchalski had passed away in February 2021 at 74, Barry “Slice” Rohrssen ensured he was there for his confidant of over 45 years. His heart ached and emotions swarmed, but he also felt something deeper tugging away. He wanted a permanent reminder of Konchalski. More specifically, he wanted a foundation named for his friend.
“He was a local scout, but a national treasure,” Rohrssen said of Konchalski, a well-known basketball scout.
Now the Tom Konchalski Foundation remains relentless in its pursuit of educating others of Konchalski’s life and legacy. On Aug. 12, Rohrssen, along with friends and family of Konchalski, gathered at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the annual induction ceremony. There were 12 inductees who took their spot in the famous hall, including household names Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki.
Konchalski was not inducted with the rest of them. But he was posthumously awarded the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award during the ceremony, something his brother, Steve, says would have made the humble scout publicly claim was “nonsense,” according to Adam Zagoria of NJ.com.
The distinction dates back 50 years and has been assigned to the who’s who of basketball, even featuring the likes of old timers John Wooden and Red Auerbach. By principle, it is bestowed upon any player, coach, or contributor who has impacted the game at any level, and in special ways.
“You are never going to get the accurate number but he helped thousands of kids get millions of dollars in scholarships,” said Rohrssen, who also mentioned the yearly game Konchalski organized for high school seniors who were unrecruited and served to benefit from more exposure to scouts.
For almost 40 years, Konchalski built a scouting career that few could ever rival. With his notepad in hand, Konchalski attended games all over the country and sat at the top of the bleachers. He was 6-foot-6 but had a quiet and graceful demeanor that belied his large presence. He did not own a car, but instead got around fine with public transportation or from his rides with coaches and journalists who gravitated to his character.
Konchalski’s scouting assessments were seemingly unrivaled in originality and detail. He had a sharp memory and could recall with ease specific plays or statistics about a player. The power of intellect he possessed made him seem ripe for education, and in fact, led him to a short stint as a Catholic school math teacher.
But Konchalski was witty, and had a way with words, which added to his uniqueness as a scout. Among the positive phrases was, “he scores like we breathe.” Others that were negative — such as for a player who could not jump well — came with a dose of modesty and humor in the form of “elevates only in buildings.”
They were ingredients for High School Basketball Illustrated, an annual scouting almanac originally founded by Harry Garfinkel in 1965 and later sold to Konchalski in 1984, which featured 16-parts of analysis on high school players around the country.
The notes were based on observation, never on hearsay. Konchalski had a typewriter to copy the notes on his pad. Never did he promulgate his work on the internet, nor did he have the capability to since he did not own a cellphone or computer. He settled for the manila envelopes, with the newsletters tucked inside, and sent them to about 200 coaches a year at a price far below their worth.
“He always tried to speak for what was in the coaches best interests and the players best interests,” Rohrssen said. “He knew the personalities of the coaches and the abilities of the players and he would categorize them so it made sense for both parties.”
Rohrssen has three decades of experience in coaching college basketball. Even when Rohrssen sought out advice from Konchalski, the veteran coach knew the end goal for Konchalski was always bigger than basketball. Sometimes, Konchalski would specifically recommend a player to a coach, as if he envisioned a perfect match the same way a guard and big man run the pick and roll.
One specific call from Konchalski still stands out, according to Rohrssen, who recalls driving on the West Side Highway when his phone rang.
It was about George Beamon, a talented scoring guard from Roslyn High School on Long Island, who was getting under recruited amidst Rohrssen’s stint as head men’s basketball coach at Manhattan College from 2006 to 2011.
Manhattan had been looking at Beamon, but Konchalski really made Rohrssen double down on the opportunity to recruit him.
“How much more right could he have been?” Rohrssen said of Konchalski’s scouting report on Beamon, who went on to finish fourth all-time on the Jaspers scoring list. “He helped Manhattan get the right player and George go to the right school.”
To know Konchalski also meant to know his relationship with the Catholic faith. He attended daily services at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church near his home in Queens, which was where he grew up and later attended Archbishop Molloy High School. That commitment to faith drew Rohrssen even closer to his friend and it led to them attending Mass together on multiple occasions over the years.
There was the time when the pair met up at a high school basketball showcase in Virginia and chose to set aside free time for a service. Konchalski had the Mass times memorized, much like he did basketball plays.
“Tom inspired and motivated me to join him,” Rohrssen said. “He had that effect on you.”
The work of the foundation goes on. Last year, they organized the first ever Tom Konchalski Classic, a college basketball tournament with four teams, including host school Fordham University, his alma mater. This week alone, the foundation offered free basketball workouts to boys varsity basketball players part of the Public Schools Athletic League.
Now, Rohrssen is booked and ready to go to Chicago to witness Konchalski’s induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Aug. 30. Welcomed into the exclusive club alongside Konchalski will be former Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Fittingly, Coach K has done work with the Tom Konchalski Foundation, too.
“A candle loses nothing when it lights another candle, and Tom was a candle,” Rohrssen said. “We may never be able to do as many good deeds as he did but we are going to try and do as many as we can.”