The Uni Watch mailbox received about a million e-mails during the last college basketball season, and 999,999 of them asked the same question: "Why is the 'C' on UCLA's jersey a different color this season?" (Answer: It was part of the school-wide celebration of UCLA's 100 national titles across all sports. C = 100, get it?)
Uni Watch is bracing for a similar e-mail onslaught this season, thanks to the new uniforms being worn at Kentucky. The Wildcats' new attire features a black-outline "K" on the home jersey and a black K on the road jersey. What's it all about? Please pay close attention, because Uni Watch will not be responding to e-mail queries on this topic: The black K is a memorial for former Kentucky equipment manager Bill Keightley, who died earlier this year. That black shoulder band is for Keightley as well -- it's inscribed with his nickname.
So begins Uni Watch's annual college hoops column, which finds dozens of schools with new attire. We'll get to the team-by-team breakdown in a minute, but first let's take a closer look at Kentucky, because those Bill Keightley memorials are just part of the story. The new design is a thematic shout-out to Kentucky Derby legend Secretariat, whose blinkers and jockey's silks were designed with a blue-and-white checkerboard. So the new UK uniforms have a checkerboard pattern (although it's hard to see from a distance), and the little checkerboard on the waistband features the years of UK's seven national championships (the lower-right square is blank, to provide motivation for an eighth title). Judging by the early returns, lots of readers think this all adds up to a disaster, but Uni Watch is OK with it, especially since it honors Kentucky's regional heritage -- always a good thing.
As for the other schools with new uniforms this year, the big story is the continued rise of the SoD Squad -- a reference to, of course, Nike's "System of Dress" concept. Uni Watch originally mocked the SoD but has come to like its snug-fitting jerseys with their clean, no-nonsense designs. Even the SoD's baggy shorts have turned out to be no worse than most other basketball shorts these days.
Here's the full SoD Squad breakdown, along with the rest of this season's new designs (with the usual caveat that there are probably several new designs that have so far eluded Uni Watch's notice, so feel free to send additions and corrections here):
• Upgrade of the year goes to Alabama, which has scrapped those miserable NikeWorld collarbone horns and replaced them with a retro-styled design that hearkens back to the 1970s (you can see lots of additional photos here). Bravo.
• Eastern Illinois has added a double-zero memorial band for Kevin Duckworth.
• Michigan has switched from Nike to adidas, with very minor changes: The front collar has changed from this to this (which is an improvement, right?), and the rear neckline has changed from this to this (which looks really lame-o, right?). They've got a new court design, too.
• Miami (the one in Ohio, not in Florida) has added a MAC patch. Uni Watch believes the other MAC teams will be doing likewise, but so far there's no visual confirmation.
• Michigan State is another team that traded in its NikeWorld collarbone horns for the clean look of the SoD Squad. They also have a set of 1979 throwbacks that they'll break out for special occasions.
• Here's a rare case of the SoD actually making things more cluttered, if just slightly: Minnesota has gone from this to this. Looks pretty plain from the front, but there's some rear piping that starts on the shoulder blade instead of going along the side seam -- odd.
• Here's your obligatory bit of annual weirdness from Oregon: Remember those bizarro black uniforms they broke out last year, with the illegible type? They appear to have added white and green versions this year. Let's all treat this like some pathetic trenchcoat geezer who desperately seeks attention by flashing people in the park: Roll your eyes a little and then just continue on with your business.
• On the footwear front, Nike-outfitted schools will be wearing Hyperdunk sneakers. Schools that will have their own versions include Syracuse, Texas, Oregon (here's a closer view), Florida, and Kentucky (here's the front view).
That should be enough to keep everyone busy for now, but Uni Watch is fairly certain there are other new designs lurking out there. Know of any schools that were left off the list? Send info and links here, and Uni Watch will run updates in subsequent columns.
(Special thanks to Uni Watch bench coach Phil Hecken for his photo research assistance.)
Meanwhile, Over on the Diamond
At some point over the past few years, you've probably thought to yourself, "OK, so Oregon has ruined the look of football and basketball, but at least they don't have a baseball team." That will change next spring, however, when the Ducks field their first NCAA baseball team in 29 years. And as you might expect, the uniforms aren't for the faint of heart. Full details (including a closer look at history's most bizarre pinstripes) here.
Paul Lukas hereby requests that Oregon refrain from ever having a hockey team. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.