Bulls

At 75, St. Joseph's Pingatore keeps winning

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At 75, St. Joseph's Pingatore keeps winning

Reggie Johnson grew up on Chicago's West Side. He might have enrolled at Foreman. He was recruited by Mount Carmel and Providence-St. Mel. But his mother brought St. Joseph to his attention. After checking it out, he beat a path to Gene Pingatore's door in Westchester.

"I didn't know much about St. Joseph," Johnson said. "I asked around. I had friends who were planning to attend the school. I learned of the history. I knew that a lot of good basketball players had come out of there. I knew Isiah Thomas had gone there. I knew Demetri McCamey off the court. And I heard about coach Ping."

Now the 6'1 senior guard is well familiar with all of the great players in St. Joseph history. The pictures of the All-Staters are visible in the Hall of Fame located in the hallway outside the gym with special cases for Thomas, Daryl Thomas and Deryl Cunningham. And there is a picture of the 1999 state championship team.

"It would be nice to see my picture on that wall someday," said Johnson, who is committed to Tennessee State. "But I've never thought about it, to be honest. I have never been the type of person to look at those goals. It would be nice to win another state championship. That's the No. 1 goal. I think we can do it."

Pingatore thinks his current team can do it, too. Like Johnson, however, he thinks in terms of team, not numbers. In his 43rd season, he has won 875 games and figures to surpass the state record of 881 set by Rockford Boylan's Steve Goers, who retired last May.

"I'm not thinking about retirement," said Pingatore, who is 75. "Coaching still is fun. I've got a good group of kids, a good group coming up and another good group coming in.

"I don't think about numbers, just the groups I have. I want to have a successful year this year. I want to get better and make a run at state. I have no goal to reach 900, then retire. This could be a very good team at the end of the year."

St. Joseph was ranked among the top 20 teams in the Chicago area in the preseason, then lost to Schaumburg and highly rated Downers Grove South and dropped out. The Chargers are 3-2 going into Friday's game with De La Salle. Next week, they meet St. Rita, then have a Dec. 22 date with St. Patrick before making their annual trip to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

Last year, St. Joseph was 10-17. It was Pingatore's first losing season since 2001 and only his second losing season since 1976.

"It was frustrating. We were competitive but not good enough to win. We're not used to doing that," he said. "We had guard problems. And we faced the toughest schedule I have ever faced in all my years from a standpoint of quality opponents. Fifteen losses were to ranked teams."

The schedule isn't much easier this season but Pingatore is more optimistic. His team is young -- he starts two sophomores and a third sophomores comes off the bench at guard -- but he expects to be much better. "We will be pretty good by the end of the year if we develop chemistry with our young people," he said.

Johnson and 5-11 senior point guard Avery Harmon are the keys to success. "They will control our destiny," Pingatore said. Other starters are 6'8 junior A.J. Patty and two 6'5 sophomores, Paul Turner and Karriem Simmons. Others who will get significant playing time are 6'0 sophomore guard Michael Brooks, 6'3 junior Denzel Patton, 6'3 senior Jawaan Toney and 6'3 junior Ron Lewis.

The legacy is all around them. The big trophies are in the hallway -- 1999 state championship, 1978 state runner-up, 1987 third place, 1984 fourth place. The great players are still there, too. Daryl Thomas is the sophomore coach and Brandon Watkins is his assistant. Marlon London is the freshman coach.

"They believe in the system and what they were a part of and they are teaching it to the kids," Pingatore said. "I don't jump around as much as before. I can't because of my bad hip. But we all believe the system wins--motion offense, pressure man-to-man defense, running the ball, discipline on the court. We haven't changed our philosophy."

That's what Johnson experienced when he visited St. Joseph for the first time. "It was a very family oriented school. I came from a small middle school so it was an easy jump. All the kids got along. It was a nice place to be around. Everyone embraced me when I came here," he said.

St. Joseph is on every college coach's radar. If you are a college prospect, they'll find you. And it didn't take long for Tennessee State to notice Johnson.

"I didn't get much attention coming out of grade school. After my sophomore year, Tennessee State saw me in some July tournaments and they stayed with me strong," he said. "They made me feel I was part of their program even before I went there."

Last Sept. 3, on his official visit with his parents, Johnson chose the Nashville, Tennessee, school over Tennessee Tech, Ball State, California-Poly and Farleigh Dickinson.

"I had only met two coaches prior to my visit," he said. "But when I went there, I wanted to meet the players, to see how they would react to me. It was all about team and how to get better. I even met the school president, all the top people at the school. They showed me a lot, everything they could in two days. I was swept off my feet."

With recruiting out of the way, Johnson is concentrating on his senior season. He agrees with Pingatore. "This team can be very good at the end of the year," he said.

"Those two losses at Thanksgiving were learning moments for our team.
We're getting better every day. The best is yet to come for us. I'm learning how to lead the team to wins. As a senior, it falls on my shoulders from ball-handling to decision-making. I have to push myself every day to get better."

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

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Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a Chicago Bull for the first time.


For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.


Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick in the draft that the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.


“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.


It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.
It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.


“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.”


“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”


The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.


The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.
“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.”


“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”


It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.


The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.


“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.”


“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”


Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.


After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.


“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”


Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.


“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”


The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.


The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.


At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.


“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”


And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.


“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”


The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.


“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”


And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.


“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”


“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.

Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: