Gene Pingatore lasted until 82, which gave him a long stretch to have an impact on many of Illinois’ most promising young lives. He made the most of it.
Pingatore accomplished any number of feats over the course of a 50-year career at St. Joseph’s High School (Westchester, Illinois). He coached a Basketball Hall of Famer in legendary point guard Isaiah Thomas. He won a pair of state championships and more than 1,000 games, the only coach in Illinois boys basketball history to do so.
Yet it is Pingatore’s role as the seminal coach in the 1990s high school basketball documentary “Hoop Dreams” that most associate with the late coach. Pingatore served as the coach of two stars, William Gates and Arthur Agee, at the onset of the movie. Agee later transferred to Marshall Metropolitan High School (Chicago), but Pingatore remained the putative focus of the film’s coaching story arc, alongside the more developed and intricate focus on the future of the players.
What is sometimes overlooked is that it was Pingatore’s acceptance of Hoops Dreams’ cameras that changed everything. If Pingatore had rejected the advances of director Steve James, the filmmaker would have turned somewhere else. And without the incredibly compelling storyline of Agee and Gates, the film would not have been the commercial and critical success it proved to be.
The point is that the revolution was televised, and Pingatore was the man who set the cameras in motion by acceding to their universal existence and their right to capture candid moments, even if he later grew upset with the way he was portrayed in the film.
“Time passes and it heals a lot of wounds — it’s really a good movie,” Pingatore told The Dissolve, for a 2014 history of “Hoop Dreams”, per the New York Times. “If I had to do it again, I don’t think I would have agreed to let them film.”
We should all feel lucky he never had the chance to rethink his and St. Joseph’s involvement. He changed high school basketball history and awareness as a result.