Mac On Sports: Roustio, Smith Recall Gene Pingatore

 

J. Thomas McNamara

     During Mel Roustio’s decades of coaching prep boys basketball at various sites throughout Illinois, “Gene and I never went head-to-head coaching teams; However, our friendship goes back many years. My Illinois State basketball/baseball teammate, John Hornacek, was Pingatore’s assistant coach for a few years before John got into basketball officiating. John’s son, Jeff, played in the NBA from 1986-to-2000 with the Suns, 76ers and Jazz.”

     Roustio was commenting on the passing of Pingatore Wednesday, June 26, at the age of 83. He is the state’s winningest boys basketball coach. He was still coaching actively and was preparing for the 2019-20 season.

     “I interviewed Gene many times over the years from 1980- to-1998 on my Sports’ Spotlight Show on WLDS Radio in Jacksonville, when I coached the Crimsons and had my radio show. “I also interviewed him when I served as the IHSA television color-analyst during the Class AA Finals,” continued Roustio about the legendary Pingatore. “Gene was a kind gentleman who comported himself with dignity. His coaching record is unparalleled. I recall him with great fondness and offer my sincere condolences to his loved ones,” concluded Roustio.

     Pingatore had 1,035 wins, 13 sectional titles, six top-four state finishes, two state championships (1999 and 2015) and coached three McDonald’s All-Americans. Central A&M’s Rob Smith, whose Raiders placed third at last March’s Class 1A state finals, said his only knowledge of Pingatore came from watching “Hoop Dreams” in which Pingatore had a role.

     Smith’s reference is to Pingatore’s supporting role in “Hoop Dreams,” the brilliant 1994 documentary on two Chicago high school basketball players, St. Joe’s Williams Gates and Marshall’s Arthur Agee, who had been recruited by Pingatore, but had to transfer to the West Side public school when his parents couldn’t afford the tuition. He was upset by his portrayal, and the inference Agee wasn’t helped by the school because he was less talented than Gates. Pingatore and the school sued the filmmakers, resulting in an out-of-court settlement.

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