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Gene Pingatore’s Impact on the Illini and the Big Ten

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The long-time St. Joseph’s coach had a legacy for over 50 years.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Wisconsin vs Nebraska David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Gene Pingatore left an indelible mark on the Illinois high school basketball scene as a coach at St. Joseph in Westchester for 50 seasons. During that time, he racked up an all-time leading 1,035 total wins at the helm for the Chargers, along with two state championships.

Although his legend on the high school level speaks for itself, his impact on Big Ten and Illini basketball through the players he coached also bears mentioning. Pingatore’s mentorship of eventual Big Ten athletes spans the decades, from Isiah Thomas’ time at Indiana in 1980 up to last season with Glynn Watson Jr. at Nebraska.

Pingatore also coached former Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey prior to McCamey’s time with Bruce Weber at Illinois from 2007-11. McCamey was a staple of Weber’s teams during the late-2000s, and played a key role on teams that made the NCAA Tournament in the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons. With the Illini, McCamey scored 1,040 points, while also recording 462 assists, 244 rebounds, and 138 steals.

Another Big Ten star who was a product of Pingatore’s leadership was Evan Turner, who eventually played for Thad Matta at Ohio State. Turner won the National Player of the Year award at Ohio State in the 2009-10 season, during which the Buckeyes clobbered the Illini both in Champaign and Columbus.

Gene Pingatore’s impact on the sport of basketball itself is difficult to encapsulate, but the character of the man is probably best captured through Isiah Thomas’ tribute to him:

Rest in peace, Mr. Pingatore.