CHICAGO -- The McDonald’s All-American West team was coasting through Tuesday morning’s practice at ATTACK Athletics.
Passes were ending up in the bleachers. Shots were falling short. Rebounds were available for anyone willing to give any sort of hustle. Defense was rarely witnessed.
West coach Gene Pingatore stood by watching all of it, trying not to explode. How his players were practicing went against everything he had ever taught in his 41 years coaching at St. Joseph High School, and he had to fight the urge to go off.
He was able to restrain himself. Instead, he decided to end practice early. It was best for everyone.
“It’s really hard,” said Pingatore while laughing. “Coaching this group, I’m not my own personality. I’m not out there yelling and screaming. I have to understand what they can and can’t do. I’m holding back.
“You have to be realistic. You can’t be yelling and screaming for people to do things they don’t want to do. You got to make it fun. That’s what it’s all about really.”
Pingatore is labeled the West coach, and he’s diagrammed some plays for his team, but ultimately he’s really just the person who subs in players and calls timeouts.
It’s more about the distinction of being selected.
“It’s a phenomenal honor,” said Bill Riley, who is an assistant for Pingatore at St. Joe’s and in the McDonald’s game. “To have been coaching as many years as he has, to have the success he has, to be asked by an organization that is noticed nationally is a great honor for him.”
Like any all-star game, once the players hit the floor at the United Center on Wednesday, plays, instructions, organization, discipline, fundamentals and everything else Pingatore stands for will be thrown out the window.
He understands that.
“They’re going to do what they want to do when they get out there,” Pingatore said.
West guard Wayne Blackshear, who is from Chicago, thought Pingatore was coaching the game the right way.
“He knows this is an all-star game,” Blackshear said. “He knows it’s just for us to have fun. He’s not focusing on defense or nothing. He just wants us to play.”
Pingatore has treated all-stars game differently in the past. In 1986 in Peoria, Ill., he was coaching an all-star game between Chicago-area players and downstate ones. Among his players were Nick Anderson and Kendall Gill, and some of them weren’t giving the effort Pingatore desired in practice.
“It was the same thing,” Pingatore said. “They didn’t want to play. I had them running stairs in the Bradley Center. I can’t come here and do that.”
Pingatore’s practice expectations have changed, but his game ones have remained the same. There’s a reason why he’s won 862 career games in Illinois.
“We want to win,” Pingatore said. “I told them, ‘Look, we’re going to keep it simple, have fun, but I’m from Chicago, and this game is in Chicago. We got to win the freaking game. We got to win the game.’ ”