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Walling: Canada's Coach K hits 800 wins

Alex J. Walling
1/8/2012 6:36:34 PM
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There are two coach K's.

One who heads the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA, and that is Mike Krzyzewski. The other is Steve Konchalski, who coaches the St. Francis Xavier X-Men of Antigonish, Nova Scotia in the CIS.

It is the Canadian coach that made news this weekend. And, what news.

Konchalski became the first CIS basketball coach ever to record 800 wins.

He did so by winning both games this weekend against the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds. The winning game was 87-68 at the Oland Centre in Antigonish.

800 wins. That's a lot of winning over a very long period of time. And it was done with the same team.

In those wins are three national championships in 1993, 2000 and 2001.

"We had some great teams in those years," Konchalski told TSN.ca, "but we had three or four teams over the years where we had good teams but didn't win it all. I remember a few times we went to the national semi-final only to lose by two points, one in regulation time and another in overtime."

Konchalski, a native New Yorker, who has been in Canada since 1961 when he was a student at Acadia University, started in Antigonish 37 years ago as a 30-year-old. Prior to being the head coach of the X-Men he worked as an assistant at Loyola College in Montreal.

Unlike many coaches who have won a lot of games but with more than one team he came to Antigonish in 1975 and has been there since.

"I remember the day I came. It was August 8, 1975 and I borrowed a car from a friend and came up from Acadia University. I really liked the beauty of the area and decided then that if they offered me the job that I would take it." Konchalski echoed those thoughts to TSN.ca. He got the job.

His first win came in a pre-season tourney against Mount Allison. "It was in a season-opening tournament. I lost my first game and got win number one in that second game. I don't remember the second win."

There are many stories and players that he's been associated with; one cute one involves E. L. Adams.

This was a kid who lived in Pennsylvania who phoned Saint Francis College in the same state. At least he thought he was calling that college.

Somehow the operator had given him the number of St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia and the call was put through to the "basketball" coach who was Konchalski. Within moments Konchalski realized this kid had made a mistake.  They talked and Coach K. convinced him to come to Nova Scotia where he spent four of "the best years" of his life. "It turned out to be a win-win for both of us," says Konchalski. Adams was a key contributor to the 2000-2001 national championship teams.

He's had hundreds of players since he started and named a few outstanding ones.

"Gil Green was my first-ever recruit from Queens in New York. He didn't win any titles but accomplished so many things and gave our program a lot of credibility. John Hatch may be the best I've ever had. Richard Bella played a key role all year in our first title in 1993 and Randy Nohr played a big role in two titles (2000-2001) and so did Fred Perry. They were great players," the coach told me.

Leo Macpherson played for Konchalski in the 80's; today he is Konchalski's boss as athletic director.

"He really is a players coach and by that I mean he gives the players a say and listens to them. They get a chance most times to speak their minds on various basketball issues. Also, he has to an extent embraced social media and new technology," says Macpherson.

In 1975 when Konchalski started there were no cell phones, no technology as today.

"I text my team on practices. Heck I have to, these kids no longer answer their cell phones," says Konchalski. "And today's kids for the most part are bigger, stronger and faster than those of the past decades. Basketball is now a year-long sport and the changes and development of kids has been phenomenal."

While Konchalski is first in CIS wins with 800, Jerry Hemmings the former coach of the Brandon Bobcats is next with 734. Konchalski surpassed that mark in November 2009.

He has an incredible winning percentage with 800 wins against 410 losses over the years in over 1,200 games.

He has led the X-Men to 14 appearances at the CIS championship and has won three national titles (1993, 2000 and 2001). His X-Men have made 35 consecutive AUS playoff appearances and won nine AUS championship titles. Coach K was named the 2001 CIS Coach of the Year, has been honored as AUS Coach of the Year on six occasions, and in 2010 received the CIS Jean-Marie DeKoninck Coaching Excellence award.

Konchalski's 2011-12 X-Men have been ranked second in the nation since the season opened and are undefeated in both conference and non-conference play with a 7-0 record, sitting atop the AUS conference. They are 18-0 when you include pre-season and the Christmas tourney.

Outside of his St. FX coaching experience, Konchalski served as the Canadian national team head coach for four years (1995-98) and assistant coach for 16 years (1973-1988), participating in three Olympic Games (1976, 1984, and 1988). He is currently an advisor to the national team program as a member of the Basketball Canada Council of Excellence.
 
As a player, Konchalski led Acadia University to a national title in 1965 where he was named tournament MVP. A native of Elmhurst, NY, Coach K has been inducted into the St. FX Sports Hall of Fame (2008, 2001), Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame (2007), Acadia Sports Hall of Fame (1994), Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame (1993) and was honoured as the inaugural recipient of the Frank Baldwin Memorial Award for dedication to basketball in Nova Scotia in 1999.

As for what he gets out of it and his biggest thrill Coach K says: "Watching the kids come in and seeing them in their freshmen year and watching them graduate four or five years later. It's a big thrill and I've had it for 37 years," Konchalski told TSN.ca.

So after 37 years on the job how many does he have left?

"As long as I still enjoy it I will stay. I doubt if I hit the 1,000 mark, but 900 is possible" says the Coach.

It is indeed.

For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J. Walling.

Alex J can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca

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