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."

Kyle Baun healthy, ready for another chance with Blackhawks

Kyle Baun healthy, ready for another chance with Blackhawks

Kyle Baun couldn’t have asked for a better start to his second NHL season as he made the Blackhawks roster out of training camp.

It didn’t last long, however, as Baun was back with the Rockford IceHogs after two games with Chicago. As for that season in Rockford?

“That was a whole other story,” said Baun.

Indeed, Baun lost a good portion of his Rockford season when his right wrist was sliced twice by another player’s skate in mid-November. That, however, is all behind him. Now Baun hopes to replicate his 2015 camp performances and latch on with the big club longer.

Baun will play in his first preseason game this fall when the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night. The 24-year-old skated is expected to start on a line with Tyler Motte and Tanner Kero, with whom he skated on Friday morning.

“I just want to simulate what I did last year, and it went well at the beginning,” Baun said. “I want to keep working hard, do what I did last year in the exhibition season and hopefully I can stick again.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Baun’s stint was short lived last fall; he was reassigned to Rockford on Oct. 16, and was looking to have a strong season there. Less than a month later, however, he suffered his right wrist injury that sidelined him for more than three months. Baun said he still wasn’t quite right even when he returned.

“I was trying to get back with the wrist and stuff, and I’m not sure it was 100 percent by the time I came back,” said Baun, who now wears Kevlar guards on his wrists. “So it was good to get a summer of training back in and get my legs under me.”

As for that wrist, Baun said it’s definitely “much better now.”

“The strength and dexterity is back,” he said. “It’s a small muscle, so to get the dexterity back was kind of tough.”

Baun is looking for another opportunity. Considering the opportunities for forwards this season, a good showing could lead to some more time in Chicago.

“I’m just trying to focus on my own game like last year. I think that worked for me, trying not to look too, too much into what everyone else is doing,” he said. “Consistency is the biggest thing here. They’re just looking for a guy who can come in, game in and game out, and improve.”

BRIEFLY

- Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford, who just wrapped up their World Cup of Hockey play on Thursday night, will probably get “three or four days off” before joining camp, assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “They’ve been going for a long time,” Kitchen said. “We’ll give them some time off.”

- Coach Joel Quenneville flew to Pittsburgh with the team.

Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame - Syracuse

Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame - Syracuse

Here are three keys and a prediction for Saturday's Notre Dame-Syracuse game in New Jersey.

1. Make a play on Amba Etta-Tawo: Orange quarterback Eric Dungey targets Etta-Tawo, college football’s leading receiver through four weeks, an average of 13 times a game. Covering Etta-Tawo well is one thing, but that won’t necessarily mean Dungey will look elsewhere to throw the ball. Senior Cole Luke will probably get the first crack at guarding Etta-Tawo, and he’ll have to make a few plays on the ball (a tipped pass, an interception, etc.) to force Dungey out of his comfort zone. If Luke can’t do it, look for an underclassmen — Donte Vaughn, who picked off a pass against Duke, would have to lead that next group — to step in. Stopping Etta-Tawo would go a long way toward keeping the points down against Syracuse’s going-to-plaid offense. 

2. Meet “the standard” on offense. DeShone Kizer has been somewhere between very good and great this season, but it hasn’t been enough for Notre Dame to avoid any of their three losses. Syracuse’s defense is prone to allowing explosive plays and has struggled against the run, so triggering Josh Adams, Dexter Williams and/or Tarean Folston on the ground could allow Kizer to pick apart the Orange secondary as the game goes on. Most importantly, Kizer and his teammates need to avoid carelessly turning the ball over, as they did a few times against Michigan State and Syracuse. 

3. Effective play from the young guys. Kelly said one of the defensive changes we’ll see going forward is a lot more younger, talented players getting on the field in situations in which they weren’t equipped to in Brian VanGorder’s complex defense. Maybe that means defensive end Daelin Hayes using his elite pass rushing trait to pressure Dungey, or linebacker Asmar Bilal using his excellent speed trait to run with a crossing route and break up a pass. No matter how it happens, it has to happen — with that “it” being making defensive plays. Without sacks, TFLs, fumbles and/or interceptions, all that talk of Notre Dame having more “fun” this week will ring hollow on Saturday.

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 42. Adams and Williams both have big games on the ground and Kizer leads an offensive oscillating between explosive and efficient to, for the first time this year, enough points to overcome a shaky defensive performance.