Nobody is having more fun watching the college basketball postseason than St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore. The winningest coach in state history -- he has won 861 games -- Pingatore has enjoyed monitoring the progress of two of his former stars, Ohio State's Evan Turner and Illinois' Dimetri McCamey.
McCamey's junior season ended in an NIT quarterfinal loss to Dayton on Wednesday night but Turner, who is acknowledged as the co-favorite for the Naismith Player of the Year award with Kentucky's John Wall, has a date with Tennessee on Friday in a Midwest regional semifinal in St. Louis.
It doesn't get much better than this for a coach who helped to groom Isiah Thomas and many other Division I players.
Even though Turner stood only six feet tall as a freshman when he enrolled at the Westchester school, Pingatore sensed he would be special at the college level because he possessed so many skills.
"I'm not surprised he could be Player of the Year,' Pingatore said. "When he was a freshman, I said if he grows as his brother did, to 6-7, he would be special. Between his freshman and sophomore years, he grew to 6-6. When he grew and you saw what he could do, you knew he would be special."
But a point guard at 6-7? "He had the skills of a point guard because that is what he played in grade school. He understood the game. When he grew to 6-7, he had all the point guard skills. I knew he would be in the NBA one day as a point guard," Pingatore said.
But Pingatore doesn't think Ohio State coach Thad Matta thought Turner was as good as he has turned out to be when he recruited him. "I don't think they knew how good he was when they got him, all the things he could do. He wasn't being used early the way they have used him lately. Eventually, at the end of his sophomore year, they talked about him running the point. They recognized he had the skills and mentality," Pingatore said.
Pingatore admits he doesn't know why Turner chose Ohio State over Illinois and Wisconsin. He suspects that the fact that Turner's father lives in Columbus, Ohio, might have been a factor. Matta was recruiting him as a junior and senior, but so were coaches Bruce Weber of Illinois and Bo Ryan of Wisconsin and several ACC coaches.
"I really don't know why he picked Ohio State," Pingatore said. "You don't know who is talking to them with all the AAU stuff."
Although McCamey and Turner were first-team All-Staters coming out of high school, most critics gave McCamey an edge because he was more physically prepared for the college grind. McCamey was the same size he is now, very physical and more mature. Turner was a skinny six-footer as a freshman in high school. No one projected him as a point guard in college, not even the colleges. At the time, Turner was a better defender but McCamey was a better outside shooter.
But that is the one thing about Turner's game that has opened Pingatore's eyes.
"His outside shooting is better and he has worked hard at that," Pingatore said. "Isiah Thomas wasn't a great outside shooter, either. But he became a very good one. The moves were that, not things you teach, but things you watch and enjoy, like Isiah. Kids with talent like that still can be taught the fundamentals, like decision-making. You learn when and when not to teach them."
While Turner figures to declare for the NBA draft -- he has been projected as the No. 1 or No. 2 selection -- Pingatore hopes McCamey will return to Illinois for his senior year. Like most scouts, he believes McCamey needs another year of development (especially leadership qualities) and seasoning at the point guard position and needs to tone his body for the NBA grind.
Then Pingatore will have an opportunity to enjoy watching them again.