Bulldogs snag a 'hoop dream'

St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Ill., doesn't list the sports it offers for "boys" or "girls" on its Web site, but rather for "men" and "women."...

St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Ill., doesn't list the sports it offers for "boys" or "girls" on its Web site, but rather for "men" and "women."

The Chargers expect a lot of their students-athletes, in particular, their basketball players.

One of those is guard-forward Ron White, a 2005 St. Joseph graduate who has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Minnesota Duluth starting this fall. Because White signed after the spring signing period, UMD coach Gary Holquist can't comment on him until the first day of school, but Holquist likely is pleased to land a player from the same school featured in "Hoop Dreams," the critically acclaimed 1994 documentary that chronicled the dream of two Chicago high school boys to play in the NBA.

Like William Gates and Arthur Agee, White played at St. Joseph under legendary coach Gene Pingatore, considered by some to be the John Wooden of high school basketball. Agee finished his prep career at Chicago's Marshall High School.

"Coach Pingatore is a pretty tough guy, just like in the movie," White said. "He is pretty strict and old-school, but there is no doubt he is a great coach. The guy's a legend. He's been coaching forever."


Pingatore, 71, has coached basketball for 49 years, including 48 at St. Joseph. He has been the Chargers' head coach for 39 years and has a gaudy career record of 814-267. Under Pingatore, the Chargers have won an Illinois large-school state title and 26 conference titles since 1975. The program has produced countless NCAA Division I recruits, including NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.

White started on a team that went 28-2, had two all-state selections and three D-I recruits. He only averaged eight points per game in Pingatore's balanced, motion offense, but the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder became known as a tremendous lockdown defender. White is also good at slashing to the basket and passing, and has a solid mid-range jump shot.

"The thing that was amazing about Ron was that we weren't tall that year, so we used him like a big guy," Pingatore said in a phone interview Thursday. "I could see him being a small forward at Duluth's level, but he has the versatility to play inside or out -- whatever you need him for.

"The kids who come into our program have to be willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win, because if they don't do that, they're gone. Ron always knew that. It wasn't taught. He was always the consummate team player."

A bright student, White earned an academic scholarship to St. Mary's, and his selfless attitude helped the walk-on play significant minutes his freshman year for the Division I school located in Moraga, Calif.

"I'm watching television and here I see Ron guarding [future Division I co-player of the year and NBA lottery pick] Adam Morrison of Gonzaga," Pingatore said. "That's a credit to Ron's great defensive ability."

After his great start, White was redshirted his sophomore year after suffering a minor injury. St. Mary's then brought in an influx of new recruits and White saw that his playing time might be limited, so he transferred to Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif., last fall.

Diablo coach Steve Coccimiglio felt White was trying to do too much early in the season for the Vikings, so he had a talk with him after about six games. White responded by living up to his co-captain status, averaging 8.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists for a team that went 26-8 and won the Big Eight Conference.


"I don't know if Ron felt he had to do more because we're a community college and he was a former Division I guy, but he was forcing too many shots and it wasn't working," Coccimiglio said. "I just told Ron, 'Look. You're a special player, but if you start playing outside your role, you're done.'

"Ron does all the little things that help a team win. If you need an offensive rebound, an assist, someone to take a charge, he's your guy. He just plays the game the way you want everyone to play the game. He elevates the play of everyone around him. The guy's a winner."

With his community college eligibility used up, White heard about UMD from Diablo assistant coach Steve Kirk, a former Superior high school coach and Northern Michigan assistant who recruited UMD's Holquist out of Marinette (Wis.) Catholic High School in the 1970s. Holquist attended Milton College but kept in touch with Kirk. That's where White comes in.

White has two years of eligibility remaining. Besides stifling defense, the Bulldogs hope White brings the same winning attitude that people have come to expect at his high school alma mater.

"St. Joseph was a great experience," White said. "There is a lot of tradition, so when you go there to play, it's no nonsense. You go there to win."

JON NOWACKI covers college sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at .

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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