Dickinson boys off to a solid start; Local coaches remember Konchalski; top fives

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Hudson Reporter sports columnist Jim Hague (left) shares good times with St. Anthony and Seton Hall legend Terry Dehere (center) and the late Tom Konchalski (right) from 2017. Konchalski, the basketball scouting legend, died last week at the age of 73
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Dickinson senior guard Luc Chapeau has helped his team jump out to a solid 3-1 start thus far
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Hudson Reporter sports columnist Jim Hague (left) shares good times with St. Anthony and Seton Hall legend Terry Dehere (center) and the late Tom Konchalski (right) from 2017. Konchalski, the basketball scouting legend, died last week at the age of 73
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Dickinson senior guard Luc Chapeau has helped his team jump out to a solid 3-1 start thus far

The Dickinson High School boys’ basketball team is off to a surprising 3-1 start, having won their last three games over Snyder, Kearny and Memorial.

It’s a great start, considering that the Rams were an uncharacteristic 10-17 last season, a year that veteran head coach Sean Drennan couldn’t let go of during the long off-season, made longer by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was our first losing season in 13 years,” said Drennan, who now holds the position that his late father, Bill “Red” Drennan once occupied during his long-standing basketball coaching career. “It was definitely the abnormality. We lost a lot of close games, but we lost too many times. For whatever reason, we didn’t get it done.”

So Drennan has decided to wipe the slate clean and start over again.

“That’s pretty much the mindset,” Drennan said. “We’ve moved on. I don’t want to dwell on it too much. We have a great group of kids. We just want to go out and play. We did a lot of soul searching and scouting, looking at the things what I did wrong, what we did wrong as a team. We all got together to examine what went wrong.”

Drennan used to have a special advisor at times like these.

“I told my Mom that now I really miss my father,” Drennan said. “He was my sounding board when things went wrong. He told me when to change up defenses a little, when to run a certain offense.”

Having COVID strangle the area over the summer months really hurt the Rams. Dickinson was always one of the busiest teams in the state during the vacation.

“It really hurt not having summer leagues to play in,” Drennan said.

The Rams lost four players to graduation, so Drennan is almost starting from scratch.

Leading the returnees is 6-foot-1 senior guard Luc Chapeau, who is the younger brother of 2019 Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year Claire Chapeau of McNair Academic.

“Luc is a good high school basketball player who works hard at it,” Drennan said. “He’s also a great kid. He’s also asking questions. He’s a very good leader who knows the game. He helps with everyone younger than him. They rely on him to be the leader.”

Chapeau recently tossed in a career-high 18 points in a win over Kearny.

Another returnee is junior power forward Isaiah Davis. The 6-foot-2 Davis collected double figures in points and rebounds in each of the Rams’ first three games this season, including 17 points and 14 rebounds in a loss to North Bergen to start the season.

“Isaiah gets a ton of hustle points,” Drennan said. “He works hard every single second. He’s in great condition and never gets tired. He’s ready to roll every game. He’s an athlete and a half.”

Davis also plays football.  It’s uncertain what sport is Davis’ best.

Junior Anderson Paulino is a 6-foot-1 point guard.

“He’s an athletic kid, a slasher who gets to the basket,” Drennan said. “He also has a nice jump shot. He jumps out of the gym. He’s also active on the defensive end. He’s learning how to run the team.”

Junior Ed Leonardo is a 6-foot-3 center.

“He’s pretty good with his back to the basket,” Drennan said. “He’s a good defensive rebounder. He comes in the gym and goes right to work. He’s improved considerably.”

Senior Samir Habouche is a 6-foot-3 forward who scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win over Kearny and had 11 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Memorial. Habouche has brought in more than 10 rebounds in three of the four games and had 19 points in the season-opening loss to North Bergen.
Junior Abdel Munpen is a 6-foot small forward.

“He’s a tough kid and the best defender on the team,” Drennan said. “He’s as tough as nails. He was on our JV [junior varsity] team that went 20-1 last year. He gets it done.”

Elijah Cooper is a 6-foot sophomore guard “who has to learn how to play the game,” according to Drennan. “He can shoot the ball.”

Jefferson Nunez is a 5-foot-9 junior point guard who backs up Paulino.

Drennan is just enjoying the season now after the brief hesitation.

“Let’s just go and have fun,” Drennan said. “We didn’t play for a while, so the kids deserve to have fun.”

The Rams are having a ton of fun these days…

There was a major sense of sadness through local basketball circles last week, when renowned and respected basketball scout Tom Konchalski passed away after a long battle with cancer. Konchalski was 73 years old.

While Konchalski was New York through and through (Forest Hills, Queens to be precise), it was safe to say that New Jersey basketball was one of his homes and Hudson County was his epicenter.

For the last 40-plus years, Konchalski was a fixture at all the top high school basketball games in the area. You didn’t need to look hard to spot Konchalski high atop local bleachers, with his black portfolio that kept his legal pad in place to take notes, doing a scouting report for every single kid known to man for his widely popular High School Basketball Insider (HSBI), a report that he banged out on his manual typewriter 16 times a year.

And you can be rest assured that Tom knew anyone and everyone involved with high school basketball.

“I think I met him for the first time in June, 1974, at Five-Star Basketball Camp in the Poconos,” said legendary Hall of Fame head coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony fame. “I talked to him at Five-Star, then he came to the summer league we had at St. Paul’s of Greenville with Bill Willoughby [the player from Englewood who went straight to the NBA from high school] playing. Tom loved going to the local playgrounds in Jersey City to see good games, loved going to the summer leagues.

Added Hurley, “We were basketball friends, but the longer time went on, we became even closer friends. We talked on the phone like two eternal teenagers. In a sport where no one can ever agree, we agreed a lot. He was an influencer for basketball for decades, for the love of the sport and love of the game.”

Hudson Catholic head coach and athletic director Nick Mariniello also enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Konchalski.

“I met him the first year I was an assistant at Marist in 1991,” Mariniello said. “I went to the Broadway Diner with [then Marist head coach] Mike Leonardo, his wife Sheila and Darren Savino [now an assistant at UCLA] and we talked for hours. We became close friends through the ABCD Camp at FDU.

“He was very private about his illness,” Mariniello said. “What a gentle soul and a great human being. His memory of statistics and situations was unbelievable. He remembered so many different things.”

And Konchalski did so without owning a cell phone or a personal computer or social media.

“In an age of social media with everything that’s out there, he refused to work that way,” Mariniello said. “He was true to his conviction and true to his calling. He wasn’t about the glitz or glamour. He will be missed.”

FDU head men’s basketball coach Greg Herenda, a native of North Bergen, knew Konchalski since Herenda’s high school days in 1978.

“He was one of those bigger-than-life people,” Herenda said. “He didn’t know how good of a player I was, but he took a liking to me. When I started my coaching career in 1983, he knew of me and remembered me. I always looked at Tom like he was my uncle or he was a priest.”

Herenda said that Konchalski helped him get an assistant coaching position at Yale in the 1990s.

“He was a huge part of my career,” Herenda said. “We lost a basketball encyclopedia. He knew everybody. He was so detailed. It was really the end of an era.  He was so much more than a basketball scout. He loved my wife Jill and my son Trey. He had a gift that he gifted so many people.”

Ramapo head men’s basketball coach Chuck McBreen, also a North Bergen native, had a relationship with Konchalski that spans 30 years.

“He was soft spoken and had this calm demeanor, but he had a fine handshake,” McBreen said. “I would tell people that if they were going to shake hands with Tom to get ready for the vice grip. The Faa [the late, great baseball scout and sports guru Ed Ford] always said that you can tell so much about someone by their handshake. Tom could talk basketball forever. He remembered everything. He was unbelievable to be pinpoint, dead on with his memory and he was uncanny with the way he evaluated talent. He was amazing. We’ll never see a Tom Konchalski again. He was a unique individual.”

My friendship with Tom goes back to the mid-1980s, when I was writing for the Hudson Dispatch and working as the Sports Information Director at St. Peter’s College. There were several times when Tom somehow climbed into the backseat of my Oldsmobile Calais with a broken driver’s seat and we would head back to Queens. I’d always ask Tom if was ok with his knees up into his chest and his reply was always the same.

“I’m fine, Jimmy, I’m getting a ride home from you and we’re talking basketball,” he said.

It was just two weeks ago that I spoke with Tom for the last time. I called him to tell him that our mutual friend Bobby Sears, who spent years as being a team manager for the fabulous Friars of St. Anthony, had passed away the day before. Tom said that he knew from Bob and Chris Hurley.

I asked Tom how he was doing and his response was telling, “Jimmy, I’m in the fourth quarter,” meaning that he was sick and his life, like the game of basketball, was drawing to an end.

I told him that if he needed a ride anywhere that I would come, pick him up and drive him. He told me that I was always good with that. I then told him about the top 25 characters I wrote about during my tenure at the Hudson Reporter. He said that he would like to read that, so I printed the 25 names and mailed it off to Forest Hills.

And now, the gentle soul, the basketball legend, is gone, another person we’ve lost in this year of death and dying. Tom Konchalski will most certainly be missed…

As for death and dying, I’d like to thank all of those who sent messages via e-mail, instant messages, phone calls and cards regarding the passing of my nephew John two weeks ago. You always find out who your closest friends are during times of tragedy. I’m very fortunate to have thousands of people, readers and friends, who reached out to console me and my family in our time of immense sorrow. John would have been so moved by your love. Thanks again…

Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (6-0). 2. Union City (2-0). 3. Bayonne (3-1). 4. Lincoln (3-1). 5. Dickinson (3-1)…

Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (5-1) 2. Secaucus (5-0). 3. Secaucus (5-0). 4. Union City (2-0). 5. Lincoln (5-1). – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com