Pingatore wins No. 900, keeps looking ahead


Pingatore wins No. 900, keeps looking ahead

St. Joseph basketball coach Gene Pingatore has won more than 900 games in his 44-year career, putting him in an elite class with Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim and Marshall's Dorothy Gaters.

So it is obligatory to ask him to select the All-Pingatore team, the five best players he has produced. Of the more than 60 Division I players, who were best of all, his all-time starting lineup?

"Isiah Thomas and Tony Freeman are the guards. There is no question about that," he said. "Evan Turner is another. I had three high school All-Americans--Isiah, Daryl Thomas and Deryl Cunningham. So Daryl and Deryl would fill out the starting five."

The bench would be filled with All-Staters, including Ken Williams, Tony Reeder, Marty Clark, Carl Hayes, Brian Molis, William Gates, Gerald Eaker and Brandon Watkins, the star of his 1999 state championship team.

No. 900, achieved against Proviso West in the third round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, wasn't any more special than No. 700 or No. 800. He talked to Knight, his good friend, at the end of October but the subject never came up. "We don't talk about things like that," Pingatore said.

What was neat, he said, was friends told him that Isiah Thomas had mentioned something about his old coach's milestone on his twitter account. Not being a computer person, Pingatore never saw it.

"After the game, they presented me with the ball and a plaque and congratulated him on winning No. 900," he said. "Former players called. I was just happy we won the game. It was nothing special."

Afterward, Pingatore and a small group of close friends went to J. Alexander's in Oak Brook for a postgame meal. "We always go out to eat after game," he said. Again, nothing special.

But the milestone will be celebrated at a family occasion on a yet-to-be-determined date. From six to 16 family members will toast Gene's achievement "on the first available Saturday when we can get everybody together."

"What does it all mean? When I look at everything, it isn't about Gene Pingatore but about all the people who were part of the program...the great players, the great assistant coaches, staff members, administrators, parents, the fan base...everyone who contributed to 900 victories.

"The day I won No. 900, there were a bunch of fans present who have come to a lot of games. That's what it is all about, memories of all the people who have contributed to the success of the program over the years. I'm the one who still is lasting. But when I'm gone, I hope to leave a program that will continue to be successful."

Pingatore, 76, grew up in Cicero. A 1954 graduate of St. Mel, he was a 5-foot-11 forward on coach Jim Weaver's Catholic League powerhouse with Ed Gleason, Andy Sloan and Mike Caroseli. Together, they stunned the legendary Du Sable team of Sweet Charlie Brown, Paxton Lumpkin and Shellie McMillon 83-74 for the city championship.

He attended Loyola in Los Angeles. After graduation, he decided to coach at the high school level. He wanted to make a name for himself in Chicago, then land a college coaching position. By then, his family had moved to Westchester. He saw a sign posted a block from his home that the Christian Brothers, who also operated St. Mel, were planning to build a high school in his neighborhood. He contacted officials at St. Mel, applied for the job and was hired in 1960.

"I'm still here," he said. "I could have left a number of times. I could have gone to college. Bob Knight asked me four or five times to be his assistant but the timing wasn't right. Every time I had a chance to move, I opted not to do it. I have no regrets."

But he admits, based on the way things are, he isn't sure if he was starting his career today that he could last as long as he has.

"I don't know if kids are different but parents are different," he said. "I've said it for a number of years. Now society is different and that has to affect the kids. There are so many distractions...summer leagues, summer coaches, shoe companies, street agents, AAU, personal trainers, recruiting, outside influences.

"You can't coach kids the way you used to coach them. You have no control over what they will do. I used to have open practices. Now they are closed, no parents allowed. Parents are concerned about their own kids, which is understandable, but their kid is always right and the other kid is always wrong.

"They are concerned with playing time and not getting the ball enough and getting a scholarship to a Division I school. I have dealt with parents who think their kid is better than he is and should play at another level. They don't know how tough it is to play at Division I and stay at that level. And I don't know who is talking to their kid."

It almost didn't come to this. After nine years as an assistant at St. Joseph, after applying for several head coaching positions at other high schools and failing to land any of them, Pingatore planned to leave the school after the 1969-70 season to work for Alden's catalog store as a buyer for sporting goods.

In mid-season, however, head coach Pat Callahan resigned and Pingatore took over. "As a result, I never left. It was a quirk of fate," he said.

"Winning games is one thing but, to me, that would be shallow. It's about the successes of all the kids who came through the program. I get my kicks out of what they have become, how successful they have become, not just the athletes like Isiah, Daryl Thomas and Evan Turner but the doctors and lawyers and businessmen and educators. I'm so proud of what they have accomplished."

It all began when Isiah Thomas enrolled. In his first eight years, Pingatore was no better than a .500 coach. In 1977-78, Isiah, then a junior, and Ray Clark led St. Joseph to a 31-2 record and second place in the Class AA tournament.

Since then, Pingatore's teams have won 20 or more games in 28 seasons. St. Joseph won the state title in 1999, was third in 1987 and fourth in 1984. And he doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Retirement? Are you kidding?

"As long as I still am having fun, I will continue to coach, as long as I feel I can contribute and relate to the kids," he said. "That is an issue. Am I relating to them? Am I communicating with them? Do they understand me? If so, I can stay in it. I feel I can still do it."

Does he think about winning 1,000 games? Only 10 high school coaches have won more than 1,000.

"I think in terms of years, not victories," Pingatore said. "How many more years can I have? I worry about high blood pressure. I think about doing a good job, having fun and being healthy. If one leaves me, I may have to consider retiring. I would like to go four or five more years because of the good kids coming in. But I've always said that. I'm not sure I can look that far ahead."

St. Joseph is struggling. Ranked No. 7 in some preseason polls, the Chargers are 9-7 after losing to Gordon Tech last Friday. They host Leo on Friday night, then meet Hyde Park on Saturday at the Bob Hambric Shootout at Thornton Fractional North in Calumet City. Next weekend, they have dates with Fenwick and Westinghouse.

Pingatore is excited about the potential of sophomores Jordan Ash, Glynn Watson and Joffrey Brown and 6-foot-8 freshman Nick Rakocevic. But sophomores are sophomores and freshmen are freshmen.

"Can you get sophomores not to be sophomores? We have to develop leadership and chemistry," he said. "There are signs it is getting better. We tend to get better in the second half of the season."

How has he changed? Has he changed at all? "Old-timers say I have mellowed, that I'm not as tough as I used to be. But they said that about Bob Knight, to. I don't know if I have changed that much. I'm trying to put in new things. But for the most part, I'm doing the same things I always have done," he said.

"We emphasize defense. And we like to run and get after it. We still run motion. But we need to have control, not just run up and down. We're tweaking the things that we do to make adjustments to how the game has changed. We don't rely on the three-point shot as much as others. We just believe in being professional and respect the game."

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

USA Today

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

During the critical fourth-quarter Oakland Raiders drive for a game-winning touchdown, one former Pro Bowl’er and NFL observer remarked to this writer that he was surprised to see a lot of hands on hips and mouth-breathing by members of the Bears defense – two common signs of being gassed.

Critiquing conditioning – or lack of – is problematic the way judging pain tolerance is. And if the Raiders score were an isolated incident, the question likely doesn’t come up.

But something is amiss. While the Bears defense remains among the NFL’s best, at least statistically, a shadow of concern is falling over the defense and its ability to close out games that it has within its reach.

The Bears held fourth-quarter leads over Denver and Oakland and allowed go-ahead touchdowns. They were rescued by Eddy Piñeiro’s 53-yard field goal in the final second. No such rescue in London.

Fully half of the eight touchdowns scored by Bears opponents in 2019 have come in fourth quarters. (The Bears themselves have not scored a single TD in any fourth quarter this season, but that’s a separate discussion.) By contrast, last season the defense did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of the final five regular-season games.

The temptation is to look only at the numbers, which are in fact positive. Even with the 24 points the Raiders scored against them in London, the Bears ranked second only to New England in scoring stinginess (13.8 ppg.) and fifth in yardage allowed (312 ypg.).

But the Bears have 17 sacks as a team; only three of those have come in fourth quarters.

Opposing quarterbacks have passed at an 81.3 rating in first halves; they are throwing at a 91.4 clip in second halves.

The defense has allowed 16 first downs in first quarters; 21 in seconds; 20 in thirds.

In 2019 fourth quarters, 34 first downs allowed.

Pulling the camera back for a wider view, extending back to include the disturbing 2018 playoff loss:

Vs. Philadelphia
Eagles drive 60 yards in 12 plays and nearly 4 minutes to score game-winning TD with :56 remaining. Cody Parkey’s double-doink overshadows fact that Bears defense forces Eagles into only two third downs and allows winning score on a fourth down.

Vs. Green Bay
With the Chicago offense sputtering all game and in need of a short field, Packers go on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:33 to set up a field goal to go up 10-3 deep in the fourth quarter.

At Denver
Inept Broncos offense scores 11 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-3 Bears lead, driving 62 yards in 12 plays, converting two fourth downs and a two-point conversion. Denver’s second-half drives: 41 yards, 56 yards, 84 yards, 62 yards.

Vs. Washington
Bears build 28-0 lead before one of NFL’s worst offenses scores a pair of largely meaningless second-half TD’s.

Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Drive 92 yards in 13 plays for TD before Bears stiffen to stop two-point PAT and next Minnesota possession.

Vs. Oakland (London)
Raiders win game with 92-yard drive that includes fourth-down conversion on punt fake run despite Bears leaving No. 1 defensive unit in, anticipating fake.

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, and tonight helped further confirm this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including 4 offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob", Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what Boylen is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished the Bulls win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.