Elmer Ripley (1891-1982)

Head Coach, 1927-29, 1938-43, 1946-49

His biography at the National Basketball Hall of Fame web site reads: "It's fitting that player and coach Elmer Ripley was born the same year that basketball was invented - his love affair with the game lasted his entire life." Over three tours at the Hilltop over 21 years, Elmer Ripley was the winningest coach in Georgetown basketball history prior to the arrival of John Thompson, and was part of three of the most successful of the pre-1972 teams.

Born in Staten Island and educated at Brown, Ripley played or coached basketball for 62 years. He was a dedicated pro when the life of a professional basketball player was anything more than long train trips to towns to play before a few hundred in attendance in a variety of gymnasiums, roller rinks, lodge halls, auditoriums, and wherever a pair of hoops were set up. Known for his defensive skills, Ripley began his career with the Hoboken independent team, and played on nine different teams in his fist six years. He achieved his greatest success as a pro leading Carbondale and Utica to pro titles in the state run pro leagues of the day.

After a season with the Original Celtics, Ripley found his way to the American Basketball League, led by future Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall. Ripley was traded to the Washington Palace Laundry Five, the team named for Marshall's laundry business. In his second season with the Palace Five, the Georgetown job was open and University officials extended an offer. Ripley moved games from tiny Ryan Gymnasium to the Arcadia (aka Arcade Rink), which also happened to be the home of the Palace Five.

Georgetown was not Ripley's original coaching assignment. Although GU is credited as his first college job, Ripley coached three seasons at Wagner College, but Wagner did not play a college-level schedule--only six games over his three seasons involved colleges, with the rest involving high schools, clubs, and military teams. The Wagner job was forgotten, but his first tenure at Georgetown wasn't--Ripley took the Hoyas to a 24-6 record over two seasons and was promptly hired away by Yale at the conclusion of his pro career.

In six seasons, Ripley earned an 82-50 record at Yale, including three EIBL titles in the years before a formal Ivy League. He served three years in basketball sales for the A.G. Spaulding Company before returning to Georgetown in 1938, leading the Hoyas to its only pre-Big East conference title in the 1938-39 Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball Conference (not to be confused with the EIBL), a league which included Pitt, West Virginia, Temple, Bucknell, and Carnegie Tech, but which folded in 1940.

Following a 16-4 record in 1941 which merited no post season offer, Ripely's greatest team was to come: the 1942-43 NCAA finalists. Featuring two starting sophomores and three freshmen, the Hoyas successfully integrated Ripley's defensive sets with a high powered, pro-style offense unseen at GU since Ripley's first tenure 15 years earlier. He also had some help from his days at Yale, as noted in an Associated Press story from 1943:

"Just as a joke, Elmer Ripley pitted a team of 11-year-old New York youngsters against Temple University's famed championship five at a basketball clinic in Madison Square Garden. The purpose was to demonstrate Temple's zone defense, which had baffled the best collegiate teams.

What Rip saw made him gasp. The kids passed the ball in, around and through the zone and scored with monotonous regularity. And Temple wasn't fooling.

That was some eight years ago, and Ripley's kept tabs on the kids ever since. When he left Yale, and moved to Georgetown as basketball coach, Ripley sold the young men the merits of higher education at Georgetown.

So today the rare combination of youth and experience is blended in the all-sophomore Georgetown five, a fact which qualifies the Hoyas as one of the two youngest quints in the East.

There's that combination of Danny Kraus and Billy Hassett as breathing proof of the success of the metamorphosis. Rip says Kraus is "the kind of a ball player who makes a team click." Danny, all-New York City selection in the 1939-40 and 1940-41 seasons while at DeWitt Clinton High, was incapacitated much of his freshman season by a bad knee, but he's in his old form now.

Hassett, a neighbor of Kraus in the Bronx, served his basketball apprenticeship at LaSalle Military Academy, Oakdale, Long Island, where he played baseball in addition to basketball. He was named the most valuable player in the 1940 Eastern State tournament at Glens Falls, N.Y.; in 1941 he was named on the all-Eastern team.

And there are many others of the same ilk on the hand-picked squad, many of them the same 11-year-olds who fooled Temple that night. Most are from New York and New Jersey, and all of them are top cream - guys like Lloyd Potolicchio, Don Gabbianelli and Miggs Reilly, to mention a few
."
Georgetown's magical run to the NCAA championship was halted by Ken Sailors and Wyoming, 46-34, and the school suspended basketball for the 1943-44 season. Too old for military service, Ripley took another job serving as coach at Columbia (1943-44) and Notre Dame (1944-46) before returning to Georgetown in 1946. His first post-war team, made up of many of the stars from 1942-43, finished 19-7 but was not selected for a post-season tourney, but upon graduations his next two teams finished a combined 22-30.

Georgetown did not renew his contract, but the 58 year old Ripley was not done coaching. He moved on to coaching stints at John Carroll (1949-51) and Army (1951-53), then coached the Harlem Globetrotters from 1953 to 1956. In 1956, he served as head basketball coach of the first Israeli Olympic team, and then served as a goodwill ambassador to teach basketball in Israel on behalf of the U.S. Government. Ripley coached the 1960 Canadian Olympic team and was an advisor to the 1972 Canadian team at the age of 82.

A month after from Georgetown's first Final Four appearance since 1943, Elmer Ripley died in his home borough of Staten Island at the age of 90.