By Cindy Mindell ~
In March, the Choate Rosemary Hall boys’ varsity basketball team brought home the first New England Preparatory School Athletic Council championship title in the Wallingford school’s 120-year history. Notable as the accomplishment was, perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Choate barely had a boys’ varsity basketball program in 2006, when Adam Finkelstein joined the coaching staff.
A native of Portland, Conn., Finkelstein was known at Portland High School not as an athlete, but for his political involvement. He was elected student-body president in his junior and senior years. As a senior, he was elected president of the Connecticut Association of Student Councils and was named to Gov. John Rowland’s Cabinet on Student Leadership.
“People always assumed that I would go into politics when I got older but my childhood dream was actually to be a general manager of an NBA team,” he says. “I studied NBA players and stats extensively. On the bus ride during our senior class trip, my classmates were all shocked to learn that I could name every player on every team in the NBA; they tried to stump me for the better part of the bus ride – to no avail.”
After high school, Finkelstein attended Connecticut College for a brief time before transferring to UConn. While there, he worked his way up through the Undergraduate Student Government until he was elected Speaker of the Senate, where he met his future wife, Marilyn.
Despite his dream, Finkelstein says that he came to assume that he would end up working with his father, Mark Finkelstein, the CEO of a New England chain of nursing homes where Adam had worked during school vacations. But when Adam was a junior, Mark left the company. “That really forced me to take a step back and ask myself what I wanted to do,” Adam says. “I decided that I was going to make every effort to chase my dream, and make a life for myself in basketball.” Because coaching seemed the logical choice, he became volunteer manager for the UConn men’s basketball team.
After graduating, determined to break into college coaching, Finkelstein took an assistant-coaching position at Division III Western Connecticut State University with head coach Bob Campbell. During his two-year tenure, Finkelstein earned a Master’s in education from the University of Bridgeport.
At 24, he was hired as an assistant coach at University of Hartford, the youngest Division I assistant coach who had never played college basketball. The team finished third in the America East Conference and head coach Larry Harrison was named America East Coach of the Year. Nonetheless, two weeks after the season ended, Harrison and his staff were fired.
With an eye toward marriage and family, Finkelstein decided to change course in 2006 and started New England Basketball Services, later renamed the New England Recruiting Report. Today, Finkelstein helps run eight annual exposure events and has more than 120 college clients for his recruiting service.
That same year, he joined the athletics staff of Choate Rosemary Hall as head coach of the varsity boys’ basketball team. By his fourth year, he was named Class B Western New England Coach of the Year. In March, with the team’s historic victory in the NEPSAC tournament, Finkelstein was named coach of the year by New England Preparatory School Athletic Council, this time in Class A.
“Choate is really a very diverse population and open community,” he says. “In my six years coaching there, I’ve had players who were Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, who follow other forms of Christianity, and atheist. I’ve even had non-Jewish players who were active in the campus Hillel.”
Finkelstein says that his Jewish identity has only been brought up rarely during his professional life. “There have been a few times when I have experienced some anti-Jewish sentiment, but typically nothing more than a comment from an ignorant person,” he says. “Unfortunately, I think you get that in all walks of life. I’m sensitive to it, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better about not reacting emotionally.
When he first considered creating a recruiting service, a colleague recommended that Finkelstein use a pen-name; Finkelstein “sounded so Jewish” that it might discourage some potential subscribers. “I was really taken aback by that, not just because of the large number of Jews who work in the college basketball media — Andy Katz, Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottleid, and others — but because there probably isn’t anything else in this world that I take more pride in than my family background,” Finkelstein says. “My dad tells stories about how my grandfather once considered changing his last name because he literally had to physically fight his way to school every day growing up in New York and continued to be discriminated against as an adult.”
Adam and Marilyn married three years ago and live in Portland. They are the third generation of Finkelsteins to belong to Congregation Adath Israel in Middletown, where Adam and his father have been lifelong members, and where Adam’s grandfather served as president.