Notre Dame knows well of John Konchar's hoops skills

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Stuck aboard the Notre Dame men’s basketball team bus as it crawled through midtown Manhattan traffic one night late last month, associate head coach Rod Balanis saw a familiar name have himself a game.

Thanks to today’s mobile technology, Balanis watched on his phone as Fort Wayne upset then-No. 3 Indiana while the Irish traveling party made its slow trek out to Newark International Airport for the charter flight home.

As Fort Wayne redshirt sophomore John Konchar was busy doing a little of everything that November night at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum – he scored 15 points with 11 rebounds and five assists in all 45 minutes – television commentators on the Big Ten Network kept spinning the story of how Konchar ended up in Mastodon royal blue and white and not Irish blue and gold.

As the story went, Konchar wanted to join Notre Dame as a walk-on, but the Irish coaches couldn’t take him. They instead steered Konchar 90 miles away to Fort Wayne. There, he would sit out his freshman season, add 40 pounds to his now 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame and grow his overall game.

A redshirt sophomore, Konchar has become a key guy for the Mastodons. For that, he has Notre Dame to thank.

Not exactly.

“I never talked to any of the coaches,” said Konchar, who never applied to or visited Notre Dame coming out of high school in suburban Chicago. “I know that toward the end of my recruiting, one of their coaches watched a couple of my games in high school.

“I don’t know how deep the Notre Dame thing ever was, but they did help me get to IPFW.”

A friendship between Balanis and Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman helped land Konchar, a first team all-Summit League preseason pick.

Following up on the crush of e-mails that the Irish basketball office receives touting this player or that player as a potential Division I sleeper prospect, Balanis ventured to West Chicago (Ill.) High School one Wednesday evening in the winter of 2014 to watch Konchar work. He moved well. He dunked. Rebounded. Passed it. Played.

“He was intriguing,” Balanis said. “He reminded me a little bit of Pat Connaughton. He was skinny but could do a bunch of stuff.”

Konchar had one game his senior season when he scored 49 points and grabbed 27 rebounds. Another with 47 points and 24 rebounds. Still, he wasn’t on the radar of any Division I programs after averaging 28.9 points, 14.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.5 blocks per game.

“It hit me toward the middle of my senior year when I started scoring a lot that I thought I had the talent to play Division I,” Konchar said. “I didn’t have any interest in it until the end of the year.”

Notre Dame had three scholarships available for its recruiting class. Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben signed in the fall of 2013 before Matt Farrell in the spring of 2014. All three now start.

Balanis debated recruiting Konchar. But with Notre Dame in the midst of a 15-17 season, he thought it best not to include head coach Mike Brey in the process. The Irish expected to get Jerian Grant back that spring following his academic suspension and weren’t in the market for a wing player.

“We were having a tough year and I just couldn’t tell Mike that the kid was really freakin’ good, even though he was a zero-star prospect,” Balanis said. “I wish I would have gone with my gut with him.”

Balanis contacted Coffman, a coaching colleague and friend for the last 15 years. At the time, Coffman was a Fort Wayne assistant coach.

“I told Jon, you should recruit the (heck) out of him,” Balanis said. “They did. It’s funny how it worked out; John’s turned out to be a great player.”

On Tuesday, Balanis will see Konchar again when No. 23 Notre Dame (8-0) hosts Fort Wayne (7-2). Konchar is averaging 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists in a team-high 32.0 minutes with four double-doubles for points and rebounds for the Mastodons.

Konchar and his teammates have worked to make sure the win over Indiana is just a start – not the stopping point – in what they believe can be a special season. Hours after beating the Hoosiers, Konchar already had detected a different vibe about basketball around the 14,000-student campus.

“I went to breakfast and somebody wanted to take a picture with me,” he said. “I thought that was really interesting. There’s been more attention in a way about basketball, but we just take it day by and focus on our next game.

“We have fun out on the court. We play hard.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Fort Wayne forward John Konchar was seen early in the recruiting process by Notre Dame. (AP File Photo/MICHAEL CONROY)

WHO: No. 23 Notre Dame (8-0) vs. Fort Wayne (7-2).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Tuesday at 9 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: ESPNU.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

NOTING: Purdue transfer Bryson Scott scored 24 points and Mo Evans added 23 points and 10 assists in Fort Wayne’s 87-71 home victory Saturday over Miami (Ohio). The Mastodons held the RedHawks to 37.7 percent shooting from the field, 27.3 percent from 3. … The Mastodons average 88.7 points a game and allow 73.2. Fort Wayne also averages over nine steals a game and has twice led by as many as 50 points over an opponent this season. … This starts a stretch of three of the next four on the road for Fort Wayne, which is 1-2 away from home with a win last week at Austin Peay and losses at Arkansas and Illinois State. … Fort Wayne returns three starters with seven newcomers and 10 guards on its 15-man roster off last year’s team that finished 24-10 overall, 12-4 and tied for first place in the Summit League. … The Mastodons were picked this preseason to finish first in the nine-team Summit League. ….A Division I program since 2000-01, the athletic program was rebranded from IPFW to Fort Wayne this season. … The Irish lead the all-time series 4-0 with the last meeting a 74-62 victory on Dec. 17, 2012. … Notre Dame is ranked this week for the first time this season after matching its best start under coach Mike Brey. … A win would give the Irish a 9-0 start for the first time since opening 12-0 in 1973-74. … Notre Dame is coming off a season-high 107 points in a 54-point victory Sunday over North Carolina A&T. … Notre Dame closes its stretch of three games in seven days Saturday against top-ranked Villanova at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

QUOTING: “We’re finally playing really well as a team and we’re just playing our style of basketball and doing really well.”

• Fort Wayne redshirt sophomore forward John Konchar.