“I don’t think about that stuff,” he says. “I know about that stuff because they don’t let you forget it.”
“That stuff” could refer to the time in late 2012 when he won his 900th game as head basketball coach of St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Ill. Or it could have to do with the slew of all-stars he’s coached during his four-plus decades at St. Joseph’s — including Isiah Thomas.
But when Pingatore says he doesn’t “think about that stuff,” he means it’s just not what’s most important to him. The work is.
“From Day One, 44 years ago, I never got up in the morning one time and said, ‘Oh, I don’t feel like going to work,’” he says. “Never, ever.”
Given his 900 wins, it may seem shocking that Pingatore, one of the nation’s most successful high school basketball coaches, almost didn’t coach at all. He spent his first nine years at St. Joseph’s as an assistant coach, applying for head coaching positions at other schools. It was only because of a mid-season resignation by his predecessor in 1969 that Pingatore was offered the gig. He took it, and then spent the next several decades imbuing the position with the stuff of legend.
“I got the thing that I always wanted to do,” he says. “I became head coach. And I never left.”
The 77-year-old, who’s entering his 44th year as head coach at St. Joseph’s, came to Loyola on a basketball scholarship. His first memories of traveling from his hometown of Cicero, Ill., to Los Angeles aren’t pleasant: He had to stop the plane mid-taxi because he’d boarded the wrong one. After landing in Los Angeles, his opportunist cabbie took an hour to drive Pingatore the five-minute journey from LAX to campus.
But from there, Loyola only got better, Pingatore says, especially because the small university was so much like a family.
“You got to know everybody,” he says. “I never went home that much because of the distance, so I spent a lot of time [in Los Angeles] on the holidays, playing basketball.”
Who knows if Pingatore will notch 1,000 wins. He’s certainly not keeping track. But in case there is any doubt that he’s a coach through and through:
“We’ve got a couple players Loyola should be looking at,” he mentioned casually.
José Martinez ’11 is a writer and former public radio reporter who is a frequent contributor to LMU Magazine. He lives in San Jose, Calif.