Duke, St. John's to honor Howard Garfinkel in 'The Garf' at MSG | Zagsblog
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Monday / January 30.
  • Duke, St. John’s to honor Howard Garfinkel in ‘The Garf’ at MSG

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    When Duke and St. John’s take the Madison Square Garden floor at noon on Saturday, they will be doing more than playing another non-conference basketball game.

    The two historic programs will be honoring the late Howard Garfinkel in the inaugural game known as “The Garf.”

    “It’s an honor for us to go to the Garden and honor his name and his memory,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

    Garfinkel, who discovered and groomed some of the top basketball talent in America across the last 50+ years at his famed Five-Star Basketball Camp, passed away in May 2016 at 86. Among the coaches who attended the funeral were Kentucky’s John Calipari and former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, both longtime Garfinkel lieutenants from Five-Star. Pitino spoke at the funeral, sharing his memories of his time with Garfinkel at Five-Star.

    Along with his future Five-Star colleague Tom Konchalski, Garfinkel was among the first to scout Lew Alcindor at Power Memorial High School in New York and UCLA coach John Wooden began recruiting the man who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in part because of Garfinkel’s typed reports that went for $50 a year and went by the name High School Basketball Illustrated.

    Garfinkel continued to attend basketball events until his final days. I remember seeing him sitting courtside at the Nike EYBL stop in Brooklyn in April 2016, just a couple of weeks before he passed. He huddled briefly with Calipari at the event to share his insights on the young players.

    “The name of the game was, is and always will be recruiting,” Garfinkel told Charlie Rose in this interview. “You gotta have the players.”

    Among the players to come through Five-Star were Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Patrick Ewing, Vince Carter, Moses Malone, Dominique Wilkins and Alonzo Mourning. Among the coaches who worked there were Pitino, Calipari, Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly and Bobby Knight.

    “It started when Coach Knight came from West Point and he started putting in stations, eight stations for eight different skills, because we hadn’t had that before,” Garfinkel told Rose. “And the teaching set the camp apart form everyone else. And Bob Knight is totally responsible for that.”

    Krzyzewski was a frequent speaker at Five-Star and became closer to Garfinkel in his later years than any coach. Garfinkel would spend a week at Coach K’s house every year, and Coach K once gave Garfinkel an NCAA championship ring for Duke’s 2015 title, according to Richard Kent, a longtime friend of Garfinkel’s who helped make the game happen and worked with Fox to air it.

    “With Howard, there’s not one story, it’s a lifelong friendship,” Krzyzewski said on a  recent ACC conference call when I asked his recollections of Garfinkel. “Since I was the coach at Army, we really knew Howard for four decades. We became like family and there’s nobody even remotely like him in the history of the game. He really was one of the contributors to the game in how he created Five-Star, but also how he created hard work, an exchange of ideas with coaches who worked there, with players who came and really helped thousands of kids get placed, and also hundreds of coaches throughout his time.”

    Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is another coach with fond memories of Garfinkel. Garfinkel briefly attended Syracuse and later tipped Boeheim off to a player named Greg Kohls who became “one of the best long-range shooters I’ve ever seen,” the Syracuse coach said.

    “We claim him as an alum, he was here for a short period of time,” Boeheim added. “I knew Howard since I was 21 years old. I met him on the recruiting trail. He ran the best basketball camp in the country for many, many years that everybody went to watch players. There was no other summer basketball. So he was the guru of college and high school basketball for at least a 20-year period. Every coach in the country would go to Five-Star Basketball Camp and talk to him. He was a unique individual. He loved the game, he loved high school and college basketball, and he was a one of a king. Many, many nights and six, seven college coaches and Howard and Tom Konchalski would be sitting around in a diner after a high school game talking basketball for hours and hours and hours on end. He was a unique person and a great friend of mine and a great friend of all of basketball.”

    Garfinkel almost always had a cigarette in his hand and loved to take friends and colleagues to his favorite spot, the Carnegie Deli. He was a big fan of the ponies, too.

    Once, after a basketball event at the Meadowlands, Garfinkel said to Jon Rothstein, the CBS Sports College Basketball Insider, “Can you drop me at the track?”

    “Do you win when you go there?” Rothstein asked.

    “Arnold, I haven’t won since Moby Dick was a minnow,” Garfinkel said, jokingly referring to Rothstein as Arnold Rothstein, the famed Jewish-American mobster.

    Rothstein spent quite a bit of time with Garfinkel in his later years, ferrying him to and from games and events, and spending late nights talking hoops at the Carnegie Deli. He recalled how quick the old man’s wit was.

    One time Rothstein remembered a man tapping Garfinkel on the shoulder during a party at the Final Four to say hello.

    “Are you Howard Garfinkel?” the man asked.

    “Are you with the IRS?” he responded.

    “No, no, no, I’m Don Chitti, I worked Five Star in 1985.”

    Garfinkel then took a puff of his cigararette and said, “Chitti, Chitti, Bang Bang.”

    “The Garf” game will continue for the next five years, with several blue blood schools expected to honor his memory.

    Photo: New York Times

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.