Rippy takes unlikely road to college court

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   BRISTOL, Va.-- Most basketball players who compete on the college level end up doing it by being one of the stars on their high school team, then earning a scholarship.
   But in the case of Virginia Intermont's Jason Rippy, his road to the college hardwood was a little bit unconventional.
   The Elizabethton resident has made the Cobras' varsity team as a walk-on despite not even playing high school basketball.
   Rippy was homeschooled growing up, and wasn't allowed to play on a school team.
   Virginia Intermont first-year head coach Thad Johnson believes Rippy's story is very encouraging.
   "I think it's a tribute to his work ethic, and his drive to succeed in basketball," Johnson said. "He's one of those guys that will never back down at practice. He's probably one of the most improved players we've had since I've been here."
   Rippy grew up in Elizabethton, but moved to Charlotte when he was in the seventh grade. Rippy came back to Elizabethton in 1998, and that's where his journey to the college hardwood began.
   "I was tired of Charlotte," Rippy said. "I moved back and stayed with my grandma for awhile. I hadn't gone to school yet. I worked a couple of places, and I didn't come here until the 2000-2001 season. That was my freshman year.
   "I waited awhile. I was kind of a late developer, so I was developing into my body. I grew up to my height all the way until I was 19 or 20. That's part of the reason I put off going to college, because I wanted to play."
   Despite not playing for any of the local high school teams, Rippy still managed to get plenty of playing experience growing up both in Elizabethton and North Carolina.
   "When I was here, I played at the Boys and Girls Club," Rippy said. "I played mostly under Eric Sewell. He was the director, and he was a great guy. When I went down to Charlotte, I played in a couple of rec leagues out there, and I played at the YMCA."
   Though the rec leagues gave him a chance to play, performing at the college level has taken time for Rippy. Rippy has had to learn a lot of plays due to not having much experienced in structured ball.
   "Even now it's still kind of a real difficult transition," Rippy said. "I'm not used to being coached. I'm not used to playing basketball this structured. It's been awesome and I love it, but even still today I find myself a little behind where I feel like I ought to be or where I want to be. And not having an experience is killing me. I'm here with guys that have seventh grade-up experience with that kind of structure and I don't. I make mistakes on the floor that sometimes don't need to be made, because I lack experience."
   Rippy played on the junior varsity team at Virginia Intermont his freshman season, then was redshirted last year. Rippy finally made the varsity team as this year, and a lot of players might be happy with that.
   But Rippy has even higher goals, and feels he can do even better.
   "I want to be successful, and be a winner," Rippy said. "I have to look back and say 'hey I've come this far as it is.' Not a lot of people do that, so in that sense my family is happy with that. I'm happy with what I've done, but I'm not going to be happy until I've accomplished what I want to do. And that's to start and contribute, not just practice and stuff. I want to contribute on the floor. I tend to not think of what I've done. I'm always like 'I want to do more.'
   Rippy knows the odds are against him as far as starting as a Cobra, but he wants to prove people wrong.
   "That's what I see," Rippy said. "Other people, I don't know. I've come this far, and I know if I've had the drive enough to get this far, I can have the drive to put the extra time in to accomplish that."
   As for not playing high school basketball, Rippy says he doesn't think that's holding him back too much because he was 5-1 and 5-2 in high school.
   "I don't think it would have been much different, because of my size," Rippy said. "It's hard for me to say that I would have become a great player, or I would have been in this league. I was 5-1 or 5-2 when I was 16 and 17. I didn't grow until I was 18. I'm not a big guy now, so I don't know even in that sense and that may have deterred me. I would like to think it would be different, but I don't think it would have been."
   With his hard work and determination to beat the odds, Rippy has joined area players like Ryan Arnold, Patrick Norman, Tim McLeod and Brandon Pike to play basketball at Virginia Intermont.
   Rippy feels like it is an honor to have his name put in that group.
   "It feels good," Rippy said. "I remember playing in a pick-up game with Pat, and he made me feel like 'what am I doing here.' But it's neat, and I think it is exciting. I just knew that he went here, and I didn't know that many guys had come. It's kind of neat to have played with him and everything."