By Garrett Collins
This season for the SUNY Plattsburgh men’s basketball team has been one that most players on the team
are probably looking forward to seeing the end. The team
started out going 1-1 and from there went on not to win a
game until late January, when they beat the Buffalo Bengals in a thriller. The compounding losses and only four games left in the season are something that can make a
team want to throw their hands up and every loss just starts to feel the same way.
One loss however did not happen on the court but off the court, when the assistant men’s basketball coach, John Konowitz unexpectedly died Jan. 28. A natural athlete, Konowitz was a two sport athlete in High School playing both baseball and basketball. Hoops was where he was the best, breaking an at the time, school record for points in a game scoring 41 points. Konowitz would then take his talents to the college ranks, looking to continue his career for the foreseeable future at Glassboro State College. That foreseeable future for Konowitz, However, was a lot closer than he expected when a tumor ended his playing career after a brief one year on the team. Although his playing career was over, this setback didn’t allow him to stop contributing to the sport.
Moving his knowledge of the sport to the North Country, Konowitz started coaching at Ausable Valley Central School from 1974-1982 taking over a team that, in his first three years, won only six games. After those early years of coaching Konowitz moved up to the collegiate level, taking the reins of the North Country Community College team from 1982-1985. After a brief stint on the community college level, Konowitz was asked to take over a
New Paltz team that was down on its luck, not having a winning season in 10 seasons. After some success with New Paltz after four years he would take one more head
coaching job. The Cortland Red Dragons had won a total of 34 games in a span of six years. After Konowitz arrived in 1989, Winning ensued. Konowitz Cortland’s career would see him go 84-75 with a 50.2 win percentage, which was a breath of fresh air compared to the 33.3 win percentage in the eight years that preceded Konowitz. Konowitz would end his head coaching career in the only way he knew how – winning SUNYAC Coach of the year in his final season in 1995.
The next step for Konowitz was to return to where his coaching story began. Although he was working locally for Primerica Financial Services, the lure of teaching the youth his extensive knowledge of Basketball was something that he could never shake. He would return to coaching – this time as a volunteer assistant for SUNY Plattsburgh and where his coaching career began, at Ausable Valley Central School. Just as he helped the teams that he joined in his past, his job was to help the newly hired coach Mike Blaine in 2019.
“Coach was critical and a vital importance when I first came to the Program in 2019,” Blaine said. “The familiarity with the SUNYAC and the teams helped the transition.”
Not only did Konowitz help new Coach Mike Blaine get acclimated to a new environment, he also was always there for players and was always there for them.
“He was valuable to players someone who always had their backs and wanted the best for them,” Blaine said.
Konowitz influenced every player he met – even ones that he never ended up getting to coach his teams. Andrew Dumas, a high school basketball player was coached by John’s brother, Ron, for Keene Central School in the 1980s.
“John coached at North Country Community College when I was a high school athlete (during the 1980s) and I attended his summer basketball camps,” Dumas said.
He shared a story about getting recruited by Konowitz to join his New Paltz team.
“I was transferring from Champlain Junior College and he must have found out that I’d be home during spring break. He came to my parents’ house with a stack of VHS cassettes of his team’s games. He stayed and visited with me and my parents for the afternoon,” Dumas said.
Although he ended up joining the Plattsburgh Cardinals roster in 1988, He still recalled playing against his former camp counselor on the college stage. “He always made it a point to say hello and ask how I was doing. He was genuine and sincere. I appreciated that.”
Past and present, Coach Konowitz has made a positive impact on his players. Current Cardinals big man Erik Salo mentioned how all the coach wanted was his players to get better on and off the court.
“Coach Konowitz was a coach that truly cared about his players and the team,” Salo said.
“Even though the coach only knew some of us for a short time, he truly wanted us to become better basketball players and men, and it really showed.”
“He knew how to joke around while staying on task and was always a delight to be around. I am grateful for the short time I got to spend with “Coach K” and I know many others would say the same.”
Konowitz was a valued member of the Cardinals during his time with the team that spanned over eight years as an assistant coach and has touched all of his players present and past, and he will surely be missed by not only the north country community and the rest of the SUNYAC Community at large.