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.