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They Look Good, They Play Better: FIT’s Basketball Team

January 20, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ First things first: Yes, their uniforms look great.

The jerseys are Carolina blue and white, with dark blue trim. The matching shorts are stylishly baggy. And two-tone high-top Nikes round out the ensemble for the Fashion Institute of Technology, a basketball team that plays as good as it looks.

With a 14-2 record, the Fashion Institute _ better known for hoop skirts than hook shots _ is ranked 17th in the national junior college Top 20 this week. The team is on track for a fifth regional title since 1981 and a second straight berth in the national JUCO championships.

The winning also helps mitigate a major liability for FIT players: ``fash talking″ from opponents and their fans.

``I’ve heard it all: `Here comes the tailor-made offense. They’re fashioning their defensive patterns,‴ said Marvin Rippy, FIT coach for the last 21 years. There’s more: They make their own letters. You should see them run the weave.

``Once we started winning, that all stopped quickly,″ said Rippy, a 1986 national JUCO coach of the year whose demeanor is part Bill Cosby, part John Chaney.

The winning started soon after Rippy’s arrival for the 1974-75 season, when FIT won just four games. By 1981, they were the nation’s No. 5 junior college team and the eastern regional champions.

Compare Rippy’s record in recent years with that of the two local NCAA powers, Seton Hall and St. John’s. The Pirates’ P.J. Carlesimo, in 12 years, posted an 212-166 mark and earned a multimillion-dollar NBA contract. Under Lou Carnesecca and Brian Mahoney, the Red Storm’s mark over the last 12 years is a more impressive 263-118.

Rippy’s record in the same time: 313-84, an .801 winning percentage.

Winning isn’t easy on the cramped campus six blocks south of Madison Square Garden. The Tigers play in a sub-basement gym, around the corner from the dance studio. Famous alumni are Calvin Klein and Norma Kamali, not Chris Mullin and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

A recent Saturday afternoon contest drew two dozen people, and a sellout crowd is just 1,200. There are no TV timeouts, no Dick Vitale hyperbole. The school of 12,000 is no basketball mill; most of its students take classes in interior design, or toy design, or fashion design.

``I had never heard of the FIT basketball team,″ confessed Ronnie Flood, one of the team’s three co-captains. ``When I told my friends, they said, `Why are you going there?′ I had no real answers.″

Deadpans Leslie Kachic of the school public relations office: ``We’re generally not known for basketball.″

FIT offers no athletic scholarships and no physical education majors. On the sports information office’s list of ``Tiger Sophs to Watch,″ each player’s grade point average is listed with his height and weight.

Flood, for example, is a 6-foot-4, 180-pounder with a 3.0 GPA and a 930 on his SATs _ numbers many more acclaimed hoopsters would find impossible to match.

He’s just as effective on the court. In a 99-88 overtime victory against Naugatuck Valley Community College, Flood used an assortment of slashing drives and jumpers to score 15 straight points in a comeback win.

Flood and his teammates are all veterans of the city’s high school basketball wars, where they went head to head with stars like Felipe Lopez of St. John’s and top Georgia Tech recruit Stephon Marbury. Academically, most of FIT’s players major in business or communications _ although burly 6-foot-7 center Sean Green is studying illustration.

FIT plays a pressing, running style as coach Rippy _ in a cardigan sweater, white shirt and tie _ alternately wanders the sidelines or sits in a cafeteria chair during home games.

His players credit Rippy for their success. ``He’s been here 21 years,″ said co-captain Tim Greene, a 6-foot-3 swingman. ``He knows what he’s doing.″

Not even success, however, can still all the wisecracks. When the Tigers lost a road game to Allegheny Community College this month, Green picked up the local paper and groaned at this headline:

``Allegheny Undresses FIT.″

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