There was no better story, no bigger accomplishment this past weekend than St. Joseph’s Gene Pingatore winning his 1,000th game as a head coach.
When you combine the high-level success, the high-profile players and the impact Pingatore has had on high school basketball, he’s truly an iconic figure in this state. The word legend gets thrown around loosely but absolutely fits Pingatore.
If you were to put together the Mt. Rushmore of high school basketball coaches in Illinois, Pingatore is certainly on it, right there with Dick Van Scyoc, Arthur Trout and Vergil Fletcher.
Van Scyoc coached at three different schools but gained fame while at Peoria Manual. Overall, he won 826 games in his career and captured a state championship in 1994.
The legendary Trout won 811 games at Centralia and finished his career with three state championships.
Fletcher, the “Wizard of the ball-press defense,” won two state championships while at Collinsville and retired in 1978 with 747 career wins.
Pingatore, who now has 1,001 career wins after beating DePaul Prep in the second round of the Chicago Catholic League playoffs Sunday, has a record that will likely never be touched.
The current active coach with the most wins behind Pingatore is Steve Kimbro of Nokomis, a small school located 85 miles northwest of St. Louis. Kimbro is in his 36th year at Nokomis and has 761 career victories.
While Pingatore, Van Scyoc, Trout and Fletcher are on the Illinois high school basketball coaching Mt. Rushmore, Simeon’s Robert Smith has a higher winning percentage than all four of those coaching legends.
Smith, who has won a state record six state championships at Simeon, is now 362-55 in his 12-plus seasons as coach at the South Side power. That’s a career winning percentage of .868.
Fletcher’s winning percentage was .814 percent, Pingatore at .739 percent, Trout at .710 percent and Van Scyoc at .675 percent.
Another Public League coach, former King coach Sonny Cox, had roughly the same winning percentage as Smith. In 18 years as head coach at King, Cox compiled a winning percentage of .878, finishing his career with a record of 476-66.
If Smith continued on his current pace of roughly 28 wins per season, it would take the Simeon coach another 23 seasons to reach Pingatore’s current win total.
Arguably the biggest –– and legitimate –– under-the-radar Peoria hopeful in the Chicago area this year is Harvest Christian in Elgin.
Harvest Christian, a Class 1A school with an enrollment of 179 students, has been a part of the IHSA for just six seasons. But the little-known Lions have rolled their way through a conference called the Northeastern Athletic and boast a 21-4 record.
When the Class 1A state tournament begins the first week of March, Harvest Christian is expected to make a deep run as a top seed. There is only one state-ranked team –– No. 4 ranked East Dubuque –– in the Pecatonica Sectional.
This wasn’t a slow building process but is rather a burgeoning program under first-year coach Andre White. It’s been instant success with the arrival of White and several transfers.
When White took over as coach he had an immediate impact player in his son, Andre White, Jr., who played last year as a freshman at Loyola Academy. The top three scorers –– senior Brennen Woods (19.6 ppg), junior J.J. Flores (15.8 ppg) and White (14 ppg) –– all transferred in to make Harvest Christian an immediate player in 1A basketball.
Woods transferred in from Hampshire, along with his promising younger brother, Collin, while Flores came from Huntley. Freshman Jon Lindquist (10.5), who also would have attended Huntley, is the fourth double-digit scorer.
If Harvest Christian can win the school’s first-ever sectional championship, a potentially tough super-sectional awaits with Hope Academy.
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