NEW YORK — The gray area of non-traditional uniforms is coming to college basketball.
Nike unveiled its new "platinum" line Wednesday to be worn by nine powerhouse men's and women's teams for one game each later this season. Like the gaudy outfits that have become so popular in college football, these take liberties with the programs' standard color schemes.
The teams selected have won NCAA titles wearing Nike gear: the Arizona, UConn, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse men and the Baylor and UConn women.
Fans tuning in might need to look at the score to figure out who the squad in gray is, like these duke uniforms. The jerseys and shorts are trimmed in some — but not necessarily all — of the schools' official hues. So Baylor has gold but not green, the Connecticut women red but not blue. The UConn men's trim is a dark navy that almost looks black.
The team names are in a reflective silver material, while the back of the jersey features a large school logo in contrasting shades of gray. Above the number is a star for each of the program's national championships; the players' name is below.
And the shades chosen are "electric," reminiscent of the fluorescent tints Oregon football is famous for. Syracuse may have to change its nickname to the Neon Orange for its one game in these outfits.
"We definitely get excited about it. I think players care about the way they look," North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall said. "I know if I played football, Oregon would be in my top five no matter who I was."
Oregon's football uniforms have had an impact on recruiting, it turns out. As Michael Kruse writes for Grantland.com, there is next to no reason the University of Oregon, tucked away in a small Pacific Northwest town with no talent pool and a history of losing, should have a good football team. That's when Nike, whose co-founder Phil Knight has close ties to Oregon, partnered with the Ducks to create jerseys that would grab attention and make the team an appealing choice for talented high school freshmen. Knight is credited with branding Oregon's way to a national powerhouse, Sports Illustrated wrote.
Other schools seem to have followed suit, like the University of Maryland, sponsored by Under Armor. The Terrapins unveiled a new football uniform this year with several possible combinations, which drew a lot of online buzz — and criticism, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Missouri's football uniforms — particularly the black home uniforms — actually measure up well compared to others, according to Missouri's Kerri McBee-Black, an adjunct professor in MU's award-winning Department of Textile and Apparel Management. There's more to a uniform than just fashion, she says. The black uniforms are "kind of creating that feeling of ‘We are Mizzou, and this is who we are, and we’re dominating, and you fear us. You really don’t want to face us on our home field.’”
Now Nike is trying to translate its success in football uniforms to basketball. Alternate uniforms are nothing new in college basketball, with black an especially popular choice in the past. Individual schools had previously requested gray jerseys from Nike, but this is the first time the company has created a standardized line for basketball.
"We feel we have the opportunity to create as much energy as they do on the football field," said Tracy Teague, global creative director for Nike Basketball.
The platinum color looks good on the court, Teague said at a launch event Wednesday in Manhattan.
"It creates a great canvas to then come in and embellish different things," he said. "We talk about colors being the new black — for us in the uniform world, the gray kind of is that new black background."
Some fans may balk at the departure from tradition, but others rush to the merchandise shop to buy a gray jersey. And those 18- to 22-year-olds wearing the uniforms love them — as do those 16- and 17-year-old recruits considering these schools.
"Sometimes I almost think we don't push it fast enough for them," Teague said of introducing new design innovations.
"I would say today's kid isn't nearly as traditional as maybe kids who came before them," he added.
When Nike reps talk to those slightly-older-than-22 college coaches, they don't just sell them on the competitive advantages of the lightweight materials used in the uniforms.
"As much as there's the physical aspect of the game, there's this emotional side of wanting to look great," Teague said.
Syracuse players had split opinions on their uniforms. Guard Dion Waiters is already a fan of bright colors, the only player on the team to wear orange socks.
"It's different. I like the 'CUSE' (on the front) and I like the big S on the back," he said. "It's kind of hot, the orange and the gray."
Forward Kris Joseph had only seen them on the Internet but didn't like his first impression.
"It's a different type of gray, but everyone went gray on us," he said. "I guess it's something new. I would rather wear the navy blue."
Marshall thought it was interesting that all the teams using the Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms will wear them in games against schools sponsored by Adidas or Under Armour.
The new look will debut when the UConn men face Notre Dame on Sunday. Kentucky will wear them against Tennessee next Tuesday, then three teams will model them Feb. 11: Duke against Maryland, Baylor against Texas A&M, and Florida against Tennessee.
The rest of the dates are Syracuse against South Florida on Feb. 22; Arizona against UCLA on Feb. 25; UConn women against Notre Dame on Feb. 27; and UNC against Maryland on Feb. 29.