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Camo, neon aren’t college basketball fan favorites

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:28 p.m. CDT

NEW YORK (AP) — It seems an unpopular position in college basketball is fashion forward.

The neon-colored jerseys and camouflage-covered shorts debuted by six teams in their postseason conference championships ahead of the NCAA men’s basketball tournaments weren’t well received in the press or social media, with critics particularly targeting UCLA, Kansas and Notre Dame because of the schools’ tradition-rich athletic histories. Louisville, Cincinnati and Baylor also got uniform makeovers from Adidas, and they didn’t go over so well, either.

They were called Underoos, Fruit Stripes and LMFAO costumes. Some people just called them ugly — and you can search for them online that way.

The changes happened to be in line with fashion runways and recreational athleticwear, where highlighter brights and creative camo have been bona fide trends. And alternate uniforms have become part of the college football and basketball landscape — but these uniforms still made some fans cringe.

“What is distracting is all the patterns,” said Sam Gordon, a Johns Hopkins student and big NCAA basketball fan. “It could take the crowd’s focus away from a player’s jump shot to what they are wearing.”

Jeff Halmos, half of the menswear designer duo Shipley & Halmos, called the uniforms “ultra-forward” — but that may not be a compliment.

“I was so shocked at UCLA. If I was part of a storied franchise like that, I’d say, ‘Absolutely not.’ I would tell my team that it’s an honor to wear this traditional jersey, and I wouldn’t cheapen it,” he said. “There’s a threshold to which innovation crosses a boundary. The ‘throwback era’ — when classic uniforms had a mainstream moment a few years ago — that was so much better. To me, there’s so much in menswear that’s about heritage.”

Even President Barack Obama felt compelled to weigh in. In going through his bracket with ESPN, he cited the uniforms as a reason Notre Dame shouldn’t go any further than the second round, saying “that neon glow wasn’t working for me.”

If the goal was buzz, though, that’s certainly been accomplished. And maybe these limited-edition uniforms weren’t created for most of the armchair — or barstool — fans. They could be a recruiting tool for next-gen talent, said Will Welch, senior editor of GQ magazine.

“There’s something gimmicky about them, but outlandish choices like this can end up defining an era,” said Welch. “They’re pretty shocking now, but I’m an adult fan, and that’s different than being a 12-year-old kid dying to grow up and play at Kansas or Louisville. ... There’s a good chance that these kids love the idea of debuting something that’s exciting.”

Sports fans are quick to get behind fashion trends that help show support of their favorite teams and players, he said. How many people wore dorky glasses with no lenses to games — and even their offices — after the NBA’s Russell Westbrook did?

Among the less popular innovations in the new uniforms were short sleeves on jerseys for UCLA, Baylor and Louisville — something Adidas also introduced this year for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

But guess who likes the sleeves? Louisville guard Peyton Siva, the Big East tournament’s MVP two years in a row.

Last week, after Louisville’s win over Notre Dame, he said, “I think everybody shot a lot better today with the sleeves.”

He also wanted to take home the shorts, and gave a compliment to Notre Dame’s uniforms, too. “I thought they were pretty awesome. Other people might not like them because they’re different, but I love them.”

Several players interviewed by The Associated Press cheered the uniforms — and sports being sports, those who won while wearing the uniforms seemed to like them more.

“I could see the uniforms becoming a good-luck charm,” said Gordon.

Josh Reis, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, prefers classic jerseys for postseason play but wouldn’t mind if these “radioactive uniforms” became the norm for special occasion games, such as a charity event. He figures it probably depends on the school — both its tradition and its team colors.

On Spring Break at the University of Florida, Reis could envision the Gators’ orange and blue getting the more extreme look, but said it doesn’t work for Notre Dame and it wouldn’t work for University of Pittsburgh, of which he is a fan.

Notre Dame spokesman Chris Masters said the team was contractually obligated to wear the uniforms for one game and then could decide on a game-by-game basis whether to go with them again.

The Notre Dame women’s team wore the new jerseys during a quarterfinal win, but went back to their regular uniforms for the semifinals and championship. “I wasn’t (a fan),” guard Kayla McBride said.

In the superstitious world of sports, though, a conference winner, like Louisville, which goes into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed, might not want to switch it up. Notre Dame’s men’s team is sticking with them.

“Anybody over 25 hates them, which I could care less,” Coach Mike Brey said Wednesday. “There’s two reasons the uniforms stay the course: My players love them and all the dudes I’m trying to recruit and sign really love them. Game over.”

Patrick Robinson certainly hopes to see more of them. The former creative director of Gap is launching an activewear collection, and he says he appreciates what Adidas is trying to do. “It takes guts to make change. As a designer, I admire that Adidas is not being afraid, not testing it, not dipping the toe. They just went out there with this bold look,” Robinson said. “They changed the conversation.”

He said the players looked like avatars, and that’s got to look cool to the teenage boys who look up to them and will buy versions of their jerseys to wear when they next play on the neighborhood court or at the school gym.

“They looked masculine, and they looked tough. ... This is about the Xbox generation, and I think Adidas is going to for the audience that gets this world.”

The consensus is that the University of Oregon football team and the funky Nike outfits it debuted last year paved the way for these uniforms. “Oregon became a powerhouse when it started innovating jerseys,” noted Halmos, “and Boise State has sort of done the same. I think a smaller, lesser known school can make this kind of statement and help define itself, just not a school with so much tradition.”

So, he added, if you’re LIU Brooklyn and this is the year that you’re the Cinderella team and have this one shot at introducing yourself to the national audience, give Adidas a call.

Adidas worked with the players and the athletic programs to create the clothes that aim to be super lightweight and allow for maximum movement and performance, the company said in a statement. Fan versions went on sale March 1.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland said his players loved the uniforms and appreciated their lightness. He said Adidas has been “a great partner for UCLA. ... So this is a marketing thing for them, and we’re happy to help them in any way we can.”

Just don’t expect to see UCLA players wearing them in the tournament that begins Thursday. The team is going back to its classic look, Howland said.

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