By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (May 13, 2016) – As the basketball world mourns the passing of Howard Garfinkel, who died at age 86 last weekend, tributes have poured in from all over, and rightfully so.
The one-of-a-kind hoop talent evaluator and co-founder of the Five-Star Basketball Camps made a profound impact on the game, from his native New York to the West Coast, where a coach named John Wooden famously read Garfinkel’s typed analysis of a high school phenom named Lew Alcindor back in the 1960s. (Wooden, like many coaches of that era, relied on Garfinkel’s vast East Coast scouting and beyond and paid for his scouting reports, The New York Times and other media outlets have written.)
Of course, Alcindor, the future Hall of Famer who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, wound up at UCLA, and the rest is history.
In its obituary, The New York Times correctly noted that Garfinkel “changed the landscape of college and professional basketball through an innovative high school scouting service and a celebrated instructional camp that helped groom top young players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James.”
ESPN college analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted, “…One of the most important people in basketball in the last 50 years. RIP Garf.”
Those with a deep knowledge of the game and real respect for its history will tell you this: Garfinkel should be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of a Fame as a contributor. He contributed to the game’s growth and success for decades.
What’s more, Five-Star Basketball Camp, started in 1966 in New York and set up afterward in Pennsylvania, created countless opportunities for coaches to gain experience and further their careers.
Reaching out to many individuals in basketball circles with close ties to Garfinkel, I’ve learned a little bit about his deep personal ties to those spanning several generations. Basketball was their common bond. A shared love of the game.
By all accounts, Garfinkel will be greatly missed.
Legendary college basketball scribe Dick “Hoops” Weiss penned a detailed look at Garfinkel’s life after he passed away. The article was posted on George Raveling’s Coaches for Success website.
Weiss wrote, “Garfinkel died peacefully Saturday morning and there was an outpouring of grief in the basketball community for an American original who lived in an apartment just this side of Broadway, was a fixture at the Garden and used to talk all things basketball during late night meals at the Carnegie Deli. He loved the horses and Broadway show tunes sung by Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland.
“But most of all, this beloved Damon Runyonesque character loved basketball and gave up the chance to become rich in his father’s textile business to devote his life to scouting high school talent for a recruiting service he ran and running summer camps for 40 years in the Poconos, Virginia and Pittsburgh that attracted some of the best high school prospects in America. ‘He was the godfather of college basketball recruiting and summer basketball,’ said Tom Konchalski, the legendary talent evaluator from New York City and one of Garfinkel’s two closest friends, along with 89-year old guru Larry ‘The Scout’ Pearlstein.
“I can’t think of six other individuals who had a bigger impact on the game.”
Weiss also delivered this insight in the obituary: “During its heyday, the camp was a proving ground for future legends like Moses Malone, Jeff Ruland, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Pearl Washington, Len Bias, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Dominique Wilkins, Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning, Steph Marbury, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It was a magnet for the best college recruiters in the country who made the pilgrimage to out-of-the-way Camp Bryn Mawr in Honesdale, Radford and Robert Morris College every summer to evaluate hundreds of campers, who played shirts and skins games on outdoor courts and listened to Hall of Fame speakers like Bob Knight, Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly, Herb Magee and Dick Vitale before afternoon and evening sessions. There were no free rides, even for the best players, who had to bus tables in the dining hall if they couldn’t afford full tuition.
“Five-Star was worth the price of admission. It was the best teaching camp of its kind, a place where campers actually got better and learned how to play the right way at a series of teaching stations that were developed by Knight to give them the best instruction possible.
“It also an incubator for great young coaches like Rick Pitino, Mike Fratello and John Calipari, who used Five-Star as a giant think tank.
“Calipari was a camper at Five-Star in 1976 and returned to be a counselor and coach when he was a college player at UNC-Wilmington and Clarion State. ‘Without him, I’m not the coach at Kentucky and I’m not able to pay it forward to my kids,’ he wrote in a powerful tribute to Garfinkel on his website. ‘The things that happened to me in my life can all be traced back to Five-Star when I was a camper and a bespectacled man came up to me and said, ‘What’s your name kid? Where are you from?’ I love you Garf’.”
What’s more, Weiss observed, “Five-Star was the birthplace of stars like Michael Jordan.”
Don DiJulia, the director of athletics at Saint Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia, reflected on his friend’s life and legacy via email.
DiJulia said Garfinkel was “one of a kind. A man for all seasons. Kind, gentle, purposeful, altruistic, and passionate. Covered more miles in more states than anyone who never drove a car!
“The Master of one-liners…keen eye for talent and champions, on and off the court. He was in sport terms ‘an impact player.’ ”
In closing, DiJulia had this to say: “Mr Howard, thanks for your friendship and the many fond memories!”
New York native Herb Brown, Larry’s big brother, whose coaching career includes college, NBA and international jobs spanning six decades, added this: “He was a great resource for players seeking exposure and scholarships as well as a networker for coaches who worked at his camp.”
Former Philadelphia 76ers GM Brad Greenberg, who drafted future Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, admitted that Garfinkel helped him early in his career.
“Garf certainly impacted my life in a dramatic way,” Greenberg told me. “If not for him, I would not have connected with Jim Lynam when I transferred from Washington State after playing my freshman year for George Raveling to go play for Jim at American University. Jim became my mentor. I played for him and worked for him as well in both college and the NBA. (St. Joe’s AD) Don (DiJulia) was an assistant at American U. and Jim Lynam’s brother-in-law and I also count Don among the people I most admire. I attended 5 Star as a camper and played in 2 Orange-White All-Star Games, and then worked the camp for 10 years.
“The last summer I worked I was the head coach in Pittsburgh and had to leave in the middle of the camp to go to California and meet with Jim Lynam before becoming his assistant with the L.A. Clippers.”
Regarding Garf’s legacy, Greenberg, a longtime coach with stints in the NBA, college and overseas leagues, offered this perspective: “Garf was uniquely special and among the most influential people college basketball has ever had. And he certainly impacted my life as well as my brother Seth. Five Star was a big part of our coaching education. For a young college player with the goal of becoming a coach, Five Star was as good as it gets. Every day was a world-class ‘living clinic’ where you got to rub shoulders with the best in the business. And Garf orchestrated it all.
“He is certainly deserving of Naismith Hall of Fame consideration as he had a direct hand in helping shape so many of the players and coaches already inducted in Springfield. There will never be someone so unique to the game as Garf.”
Former University of Mississippi and Arizona State bench boss Rob Evans, who now works as the University of North Texas associate head coach, has fond memories of his times crossing paths with Garfinkel.
“I went to Garf’s camps in the ’80s at both Honesdale, Pa. and Pittsburgh,” Evans told me. “His camps were always so well run and he would take time to give you any information that you asked. He was always moving around watching every kid in the camp. This was back when we had no dead periods. I was fortunate to see him at the Final Four in Houston a few months ago and visit with him. He will certainly be missed.”
Returning to Weiss’ article, Garfinkel’s remarkable impact is clearly defined in the words that follow. “The day Garfinkel died, the Five-Star organization published a testimonial in which they referred to him as a visionary who pioneered the basketball specialty camp and innovated the scouting and evaluation process.
” ‘Garf’ also represents the unmistakable tree in the basketball landscape, one in which every player or coach could trace their roots back to. His eye for talent and evaluation took both prospects and coaches to unprecedented highs and will never be rivaled,’ ” it said.
More than 300 coaches employed at the Five Star camp went on to get college coaching jobs, Weiss noted.
“…His legacy lives on in this, the 50th anniversary of the storied camp, which touched so many lives and showcased the talents of thousands of campers, who earned Division I scholarships,” Weiss declared.
Recommended reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/sports/scout-is-a-five-star-original-in-basketball.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&