Pingatore and Wainwright: True Chicago

They both come from similar backgrounds and both have devoted their lives to teaching the game of basketball. Where the similarities end is that one has stayed in the same place throughout his career, while the other has left his hometown, moved around for years, and returned back to the city where he started. St. Joseph's high school boys' basketball coach Gene Pingatore and DePaul University men's basketball coach Jerry Wainwright have a lot in common and have known each other a long time.

Both coaches exemplify the blue collar work ethic that Chicagoans admire. Pingatore grew up on the streets of suburban Cicero, while Wainwright lived a stone's throw away in Berwyn.

"We grew up in the same area. I didn't know him at that time, but when I came back from college and started coaching and he got involved and we met in my neighborhood," said Pingatore. "You're talking about going back into the sixties. He's been around a long time and I've known him."

In the late 1970's, with Pingatore at St. Joe's in Westchester, Wainwright was just up the road at East Leyden high school where as head coach he compiled an astounding record of 104-4 over four years. "We used to play softball together," said Wainwright on his relationship with Pingatore.

"I've known him a long time," Pingatore said of Wainwright. "He's a hard worker. He's a blue collar kind of a guy. He fits right in with the image that DePaul has. It's a blue collar type of school. I think he'll stay, which is important to DePaul. He'll get the job done. He'll be able to recruit. He's a good X's and O's guy. He's got it all. He's been successful wherever he's been in the past, from high school on up to college. He'll be very good for DePaul."

Pingatore has been the head coach at St. Joe's since the middle of the 1969-70 season. Wainwright coached at the high school level, served as an assistant coach at Xavier and Wake Forest, became the head coach at UNC-Wilmington, and then Richmond. He is now in his first year at DePaul. There is no doubt that Pingatore could have left for other opportunties, but he has remained loyal to the school that gave him his start. "Guys like him could easily be where I'm at right now," Wainwright said. "He's the Morgan Wooten of Illinois basketball."

While coaching at the collegiate level, Wainwright continued to cross paths with his old acquaintance on the recruiting trail. "At Xavier, Wilmington, and Richmond, I've recruited some of his kids and we'll look at some of his guys," Jerry remarked.

Among the St. Joseph's guys that Wainwright has no doubt looked at are current juniors Demetri McCamey and Evan Turner. McCamey is a 6-4 190 lb. combo guard. Turner is a 6-6 175 lb. forward. Both are highly regarded in the Class of 2007.

After several decades, the relationship between Pingatore and Wainwright continues to flourish. Last year, Wainwright and DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto attended a Hall of Fame dinner honoring Pingatore.

Anyone who has seen the documentary "Hoop Dreams" knows about Pingatore and his reputation for building St. Joe's into a consistent winner. He has taken his team downstate ten times and won it all with his 1999 IHSA Class AA championship team. Over his career Pingatore has amassed over 760 wins.

He is doing it again this season and has his team off to a 24-1 start and ranked second in the Chicago area by the Chicago Sun-Times. The lone loss came to Proviso East in the finals of the St. Charles East tournament in November.

In December, the St. Joseph's Chargers won their second straight Proviso West Holiday tournament title. McCamey, Turner, and senior Jonathan Peoples were all named to the All-Tournament Team. How did Pingatore keep his team motivated to win four games in four days? "The secret is you got to play them one at a time, you can't look back," Gene said. "You got to play them one at a time and try to improve on all the things you're doing one at a time."

Pingatore attributes his team's success to balanced scoring. "We have four guys (averaging) close to double figures," said Pingatore. "You never see big numbers all year from any of our players, even when Isiah (Thomas) was here. I always tell the story when Isiah had his senior year, the first three games of the year he averaged 40 points a game. Do you know what our record was? 1-2. We had a talk, we said Isiah you have to cut it down, your assists have to go up to double digits. We didn't lose another game until we were upset in the sectional finals. We always promote that, sharing the ball."

As Pingatore and the Chargers look towards the IHSA playoffs and a run towards Champaign, are there any areas where they need to improve? "For us to be good by the end of the year, we've got to pick up our defensive intensity."


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