Preps Talk

Legendary St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore wins No. 1,000

Legendary St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore wins No. 1,000

Gene Pingatore had a hard time finding the words after making history on Saturday night.

Moments after Pingatore captured the 1,000th win of his illustrious career at St. Joseph, he was surrounded by cameras and people who have been apart of the St. Joseph boys basketball program during his 48 years of coaching.

"This is all about the people that helped get me here," Pingatore repeatedly said on Saturday night.

In front of a near sold-out crowd that was filled with many of the former players and managers that helped him become the first coach in Illinois high school boys basketball history to reach 1,000 wins, Pinagtore and St. Joseph knocked off St. Rita, 81-71, on Saturday night to advance in the Catholic League Tournament.

The win helps the Chargers (13-10) gain some momentum heading towards the state playoffs, but this night was mostly about Pingatore and his long-lasting legacy.

The 80-year-old Pingatore has been coaching at St. Joseph since 1969, leading the program to two state championships (1999 and 2015) and producing countless successful players across multiple decades.

Pingatore's most famous alum is undoubtedly Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas and Pingatore has also coached talented players like Amal McCaskill, Daryl Thomas, William Gates, Evan Turner and Demetri McCamey.

One of the remarkable things about Pingatore, and his overall legacy, is his ability to connect and coach talented players over multiple generations. 

In just the last two years, Pingatore has coached players that went on to play at the high college level as Jordan Ash (Northwestern), Glynn Watson (Nebraska) and Nick Rakocevic (USC) all helped the Chargers capture that 2015 state championship in Class 3A.

Using a freshman point guard in Marquise Walker, the Chargers shockingly made it back down to Peoria last season despite Rakocevic being the team's only senior.  

The trip to Peoria was one of nine times that St. Joseph has played in the state finals during Pingatore's tenure. The Chargers also have 13 sectional titles and 32 20-win seasons during Pingatore's tenure. 

During one particularly strong stretch during the 1980s, St. Joseph won six sectional titles over a seven-year period from 1982 through 1988 -- although they never claimed a state title.

Basketball fans from all over the world might also be familiar with Pingatore as the high school coach at St. Joseph during the famous 1994 basketball documentary "Hoop Dreams." 

Considered one of the best sports documentaries of all time, the film followed the lives of two rising freshmen trying to make their way at St. Joseph. As the head coach who helped produce Thomas as the film's hook, Pingatore received a lot of screen time in the critically-acclaimed film.

Pingatore has a healthy lead on the Illinois all-time wins list among boys basketball coaches and he's the only coach to even reach 900 wins in the state. It will be years before we see anyone even come close to challenging Pingatore's impressive win total and he doesn't seem to be slowing down.

In the frenzy and celebration after the St. Joseph win on Saturday night, Pingatore spent a lot of timing talking photos with groups of former players and coaches. 

Amidst the sea of people, players and cameras, Pingatore sheepishly took selfies with younger players and remembered the names of hundreds of well-wishers who wanted to be apart of his historic night. 

Groups of players from years' past would call for Pingatore's attention for group photos every few seconds. It was a small glimpse of the impact he's made in nearly 50 years of coaching at St. Joseph.

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

There’s country strong. And then there’s Jerry Sloan.

The NBA Hall of Fame player and coach, a tenacious defender and steady offensive threat, became a household name with the Chicago Bulls in the 1970s. Four-time NBA All-Defensive First Team. Two-time NBA-All-Star.

Sloan died Friday after a courageous battle against Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. He was 78.

But it was Sloan’s perseverance as a child and his dedication to the game of basketball —and his home town— 300 miles south of the Windy City that made him a real star.

[MORE: Remember ‘Original Bull’ Jerry Sloan as he lived: tough, humble and honest]

The former Bull, who went on to lead the Utah Jazz to the playoffs in 15 of his 23 seasons there as a head coach, grew up on a farm near McLeansboro, Illinois. The youngest of 10 children, Sloan would routinely wake up in the wee hours to do family chores. He’d then walk two miles to the town’s high school for basketball practice.

The foundation of a hard work ethic and a ferocious competitive nature paved the way for Sloan’s rise to stardom.

Sloan played on several great McLeansboro teams in the late-50s. In his junior season, he helped guide his squad to a 19-6 record for coach Gene Haile. He followed that up with a senior season most kids would dream of: 26 wins, 3 losses. He was named to the All-State team.

He would later guide the Evansville Purple Aces to two Division II national championships. He became known as “the Original Bull” shortly after the startup Bulls franchise drafted him in the 1966 expansion draft. The rest was history—a brilliant 10-year career in Chicago as a player and nearly three more as a head coach on West Madison before becoming a legend in Salt Lake City.

But it was his small-town roots that made Jerry Sloan all the more genuine.

He would return to McLeansboro several times in 1984 —the year he became an assistant with the Utah Jazz— to watch his high school team play. His son, Brian, led the Foxes to the Class A state championship that year, going 35-0 in the process. Brian went on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

Sloan would return frequently to this Southern Illinois town many times during his run with the Jazz— a run where he only finished below .500 once and racked up an astonishing career 1,221 wins. Hamilton County High School, formerly known as McLeansboro, dedicated its gym in Sloan’s honor in Dec. 2012. A road in McLeansboro is now called Jerry Sloan Avenue.

In a statement, a representative from McLeansboro High School said the following:

“Today is a sad day for Hamilton County and the Foxes. Coach Jerry Sloan has passed away. Coach Sloan graduated from McLeansboro High School in 1960 and was always a hometown boy. Whenever he returned he was just one of us. He will be greatly missed. RIP Coach Sloan.”

McLeansboro will always be Sloan Country.

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Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

J.J. McCarthy, the state’s top-ranked high school quarterback and overall player according to Rivals, is transferring from Nazareth Academy to IMG Academy in Florida.

McCarthy made the announcement on his Twitter page Monday afternoon.

The news sent shock waves throughout the national prep football landscape. McCarthy, committed to play at Michigan, led the Roadrunners to an IHSA 7A second place finish back in November. As a sophomore in 2018, he threw for over 3,200 yards and 36 touchdowns. It culminated in a state title win and a 13-1 season.

The move makes sense for McCarthy, as he will team up with offensive lineman Greg Crippen, a fellow Michigan commit. According to Rivals, McCarthy (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) is ranked as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and No. 33 overall recruit in the country.

The loss is a huge one for head coach Tim Racki and company at the La Grange Park school. That said, the Roadrunners are one of the dominant programs in IHSA football, compiling a 38-4 record the past three seasons with three state titles in the previous six campaigns.

The big questions: Will other high-caliber Illinois high school athletes follow McCarthy? When will the IHSA commit to a fall sports schedule? What will Illinois high school football look like in the fall? What guidelines will be in place? There are many uncertainties.

What is known: The IHSA chose to cancel the state basketball tournament and all 2020 spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois is currently in a phased reopening of businesses and other institutions. Florida is ahead of Illinois in respect to some of those aforementioned facilities.

The risk, or perhaps the unknown, was worth it for McCarthy and his family. Will Florida —or other states, including Illinois— even be cleared to play football come August? Will his move be a productive one in retrospect?

Time will tell.