900 wins and counting for St. F.X. hoops coach Steve Konchalski

Legendary.

It just might be the one word that perfectly describes the basketball career of St. Francis Xavier University coach Steve Konchalski.

When Coach K won his 900th game last month, he raised the bar to a level no other Canadian college coach has ever come close to. The 900 wins cover pre-season, regular season, tournament and playoff games.

However, those numbers are possible when you’re in your 44th season coaching the same team.

“I remember when I interviewed for the job back in ’75 and I said I wanted to achieve consistent excellence over time,” said Konchalski.

“Winning championships are great, but seeing these young people develop and graduate and seeing them move on to productive careers is what it’s really all about and along the way you just hope you win as many games as you can.”

Konchalski started coaching at St. F.X. in 1975 and win 900 was on the road against Acadia University in Wolfville, which was a fitting place for the win. Konchalsi is a New Yorker who came to Canada in 1962 to play at Acadia. He quickly became a star player with the Axemen.

Steve Konchalski shows off the ball that was used in the game of his 900th win. (St. Francis Xavier University)

Konchalski’s first win as a coach came against Mount Allison University. Since that time, he has coached the X-Men to three national titles. The first came in 1993 and there were back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001. Throw in nine Atlantic conference championships and you can see how the wins got to 900.

“Looking back over my 44 years, the national championship teams we had may not have been our best teams,” said Konchalski, “We probably had four or five teams of equal calibre, but for a variety of reasons just couldn’t win that crucial game.”

On Friday, the 73-year-old Konchalski will lead his team onto the court at Dalhousie University for their first game of the Shoveller Men’s Basketball tournament. His team will play their opening game against Saint Mary’s University.

Steve Konchalski, left, is shown with future NBA hall of famer Steve Nash, whom he coached on Canada’s national team. (Submitted by St. Francis Xavier University)

Getting to the 1,000-win mark would mean Konchalski would have to coach for several more years.

“I’m not putting a limit on it and I never will put a limit on it,” said Konchalski, whose wife Charlene is from Antigonish and he raised his family there as well. “I’m taking it one year at a time and as long as I’m healthy and as long as I’m enjoying it, I’m going to keep going.”

Konchalski also spent many seasons as an assistant coach with Canada’s national men’s program and went to the Olympic games in 1976 (Montreal), 1984 (Los Angeles) and 1998 (Seoul). He was the national team head coach from 1995 to 1998.

St. Francis Xavier University basketball players Gil Green, left, Geoff McIver and coach Steve Konchalski are shown at a 1980 game. (Submitted by St. Francis Xavier University)

Over the years, some of his St. F.X. players played on the national team.

Highly respected as a coach, no one has ever doubted his competitive spirit, especially in his early days on the sidelines.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, his X teams had a fierce rivalry with Acadia.

While Acadia fans adored Konchalski when he played for them, they had a strong dislike for his antics on the St. F.X. bench.

Band-Aids and jacket tosses

Ed McHugh was the manager of Konchalski’s first St. F.X. team in 1975 and several seasons later was a referee on the court in a wild game between Acadia and X.

“Acadia coach Ian MacMillan put his finger right in front of Steve’s face and was waving it around and Steve bit it,” said McHugh. “The next time St. F.X. played there in Wolfville, all the Acadia fans showed up with Band-Aids on their fingers and stood up and waved them at Steve.”

Konchalski was also known for removing his sports jacket in the heat of the game and giving it a toss when he was frustrated with officials.

But while he may have had a bit of a wild side early in his coaching career, he’s always been loved by his players and had their best interests in mind.

“His players are students first and athletes second,” said McHugh. “He really takes great care and has great interest in their life success.”

Who are the best players he’s coached?

Asked who his all-time St. F.X. team would be, this is what Konchalski said:

  • Randy Nohr, Burnaby, B.C., MVP of the 2000 national championship tournament.
  • Gil Green, Queens, N.Y., Konchalski’s first recruit at X. He was a three-time team MVP.
  • John Hatch, Calgary, all-time scoring points leader in X history.
  • Richard Bella, Bimbo, Central African Republic, a 6-9 centre who starred on the 1993 national championship team.
  • Fred Perry, Halifax, star player on 2000 and 2001 national championship teams.

Steve Konchalski coaching the X-Men in Halifax in 1993. (St. Francis Xavier University)

As for an all-Nova Scotia team, Konchalski could only narrow the list down to six players:

  • Fred Perry, Halifax, Halifax West High School.
  • Wade Smith, Halifax, Queen Elizabeth High School.
  • Jordan Croucher, Halifax, Queen Elizabeth High School.
  • Dennie Oliver, Halifax, Halifax West High School.
  • Tyler Richards, Halifax, St. Patrick’s High School.
  • Christian (T-Bear) Upshaw ,Halifax, St. Patrick’s High School.

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