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."

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Rookie Deiondre' Hall flashed in the preseason a year ago, leading the Bears coaching staff and fans to believe they found something amidst their trio of 2016 fourth round draft picks. 

He’s hoping to do the same this August after overcoming one physical hurdle, while waiting to see if he can get past a legal hurdle he created for himself.

Let’s start on the field, where, just days after his first NFL interception in the fourth game last season, he sustained an ankle injury in practice, sidelining him for two months. Once his walking boot and scooter were finally put away, he was active for the final four games. But what progress he’d been making on the field was difficult to recapture.

“Just coming off the injury, there was a little rust here and there, but the training staff here’s great and I had to push through it,” Hall said at last week’s minicamp in Lake Forest after he was one of numerous Bears hit by the injury bug, but not one of the 19 who wound up on Injured Reserve. “(I was) getting comfortable with the defense and in myself playing with those guys out there, getting the opportunity in the red zone and making plays. But the injury kinda sucked because I haven’t really had an opportunity to play since Week 5, so I’m not necessarily starting fresh.”

As the offseason unfolded, Hall was informed the coaching staff was going to try him at safety, if not permanently, then as an option for the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Northern Iowa product. 

But Hall’s not totally foreign to the position. He was a free safety his first year in college, then transitioned to outside linebacker/nickel as a sophomore, moved to cornerback as a junior before breaking his hand his senior year, playing through it back where he started at safety. So the decision wasn’t a big deal, especially if it enhances his chances to get on the field. But his preference?

“Defense. Opportunity,” Hall responded. “You get in where you fit in and the more you can do, the better it is for the team. If opportunity presents itself at corner, then I’m at corner. But right now at safety, I’m making strides (there) and keep pushing for that.”

“We’re gonna float him back and forth,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last month, after the Bears signed free agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the off-season, while Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc are expected to battle for slot duty and former first-rounder Kyle Fuller and veterans Johnthan Banks and B.W. Webb hope to impress. “He (Hall) had some experience there in college. When it comes down to picking your team and you’re taking nine or 10 DBs, if someone’s got versatility to play both of those spots, that helps, so we’re gonna see if he’s one of those guys.”

But before Hall gets back to work in Bourbonnais, he’ll find out if he has some other dues to pay. Hall was back at his alma mater’s Cedar Falls campus March 26th when he and a former UNI teammate were arrested outside a bar called Sharky’s. Police had responded to a call, and by the time all was said and done, Hall needed to be tased before being arrested on charges of public intoxication, interference (with an arrest), and disorderly conduct. 

The case was continued late last month and Hall’s jury trial is scheduled for July 11th. Pending the outcome, he could face disciplinary action from the team and the NFL. He’s told his side of the story to Bears management and while expressing remorse for putting himself in the situation, Hall says it wasn’t in character and feels confident in what the outcome will be.

“People make mistakes and the truth always comes out,” the 23-year-old said, adding the situation isn’t weighing on his mind or affected his preparation in off-season workouts. “You gotta let people make their own mistakes. I won’t shed light but the truth always comes out, and (I’ve learned) just don’t take anything for granted.”

“My main focus is football and keep pushing to make strides to become good, and great.”

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial.