Hard on the gray matter

With wrong colors, name, new uniforms don't wash
2012-01-26T00:00:00Z 2012-02-14T10:15:31Z Hard on the gray matterPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 26, 2012 12:00 am  • 

You know the words. Sing it with me. "Bear Down, Zona!/Bear Down, Silver and Otter Pop Strawberry!"

You don't know that one? How about the alma mater?

"All Hail, Zona! Thy colors Gun Metal Gray and Kool-Aid Man Red."

The Arizona Wildcats basketball team got a redesign Wednesday, along with eight other programs, unveiled by Nike at an exclusive New York event.

The show featured "basketball players" dancing over computerized images vaguely related to their schools. Florida "players" dunked off the spines of a gator's back. Stanford women's basketball players shot on a court surrounded by hyper-color trees.

I watched live on my laptop at 8 a.m. It was too early for performance art.

The big unveil left me feeling, well, gray.

The Arizona Wildcats' uniforms, which will be worn, mercifully, only once - Feb. 25 against UCLA - are a silver-y tone.

Across the front, written in the familiar UA script, was an unfamiliar word: "Zona."

The piping on the V-neck of the jersey and down either side of the short is highlighter red - "electric," as described by Nike global creative director Tracy Teague.

There was no hint of navy, anywhere.

Yup, Arizona's new uniform featured neither the proper school name nor the school's colors.

Z-O-N-A. Really?

I've never heard anybody call the school "Zona" without a sarcastic smirk on their face. Or a snap-back, frat-boy baseball cap.

Arizona's seventh different uniform combination of the last 12 months features a star on the back with "97" written inside, in honor of the championship team. There's a gray block "A" that spans most of the jersey's back.

There are advantages to the new stuff.

Reasons 1-50 are variations of the very reason Nike is one of college sports' most powerful entity - marketing and recruiting.

The Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms - given to each basketball team, male and female, that won a national title while wearing The Swoosh - are lighter. They're made of recycled products, which is nice.

Even as a one-time-only gimmick, I don't like the uniforms - and I'm wildly interested in gear.

Open the bottom drawer of my dresser, and you'll see maybe 40 pairs of basketball shorts, mostly Nike, rolled up together.

I've got Missouri and Oklahoma State, throwback Oregons and current USCs. I bought my brother a pair of Hank Gathers-era Loyola Marymount ones for Christmas.

I blanched at Wednesday's uniforms, however, because they have nothing to do with the UA, which has in recent years taken great steps to sharpen its athletic brand.

It's all about Nike.

The shoe giant managed to turn icons of color - Syracuse's orange, Carolina periwinkle, Kentucky's blue - into a dusty chalkboard. (Syracuse, by the way, is "Cuse" in new Nike parlance.)

At least when Nike redesigns a team's uniforms, as it did to the UA last year, there's the veneer of school colors.

Sadly, gray is a trend that won't go away any time soon.

Do you know how many Nike schools added gray before the season started? I counted at least eight - from Akron to Wichita State.

It's not because those are their colors. It's because you'll look at them and say, "Oh, Nike made those." And, maybe, buy the shorts.

As if there were any doubt about the corporate goal here, consider this: All nine programs to receive the makeover will wear their uniforms once -in every case, against teams that wear Adidas or Under Armour.

It's not Arizona vs. UCLA - it's Nike against Adidas.

There are shades of gray in the discussion (sorry, couldn't resist).

Arizona's relationship with Nike, of course, is critical to its branding.

For recruits, and many students and fans, it probably ranks ahead of Apple or McDonald's or any of America's corporate giants.

From that perspective, the Wildcats are wise to embrace the ubiquitous Swoosh. It's fantastic business - and, from players I've spoken with before, a monstrous recruiting advantage.

Next time, though, the UA might want to make sure the school name and colors appear on the uniform.

Every week, in an email, athletic director Greg Byrne asks fans to "wear the colors."

I'd ask the basketball team to do the same.

On StarNet: See more photos of the new uniforms at


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Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Arizona 7 1 0 0.875 19 2 0 0.905
Utah 6 2 0 0.750 16 4 0 0.800
Stanford 6 2 0 0.750 15 5 0 0.750
Oregon State 5 3 0 0.625 13 6 0 0.684
Oregon 5 4 0 0.556 15 7 0 0.682
UCLA 4 4 0 0.500 12 9 0 0.571
Colorado 4 4 0 0.500 11 8 0 0.579
Washington 3 5 0 0.375 14 6 0 0.700
Washington State 3 5 0 0.375 9 11 0 0.450
Arizona State 3 6 0 0.333 12 11 0 0.522
California 2 6 0 0.250 12 9 0 0.571
USC 1 7 0 0.125 9 11 0 0.450

AP Top 25

Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Colorado at
1/29 98-94
Utah at
1/29 59-69
California at
Washington State
1/29 76-67
Oregon at
Arizona State
1/30 68-67
Oregon State at
1/30 68-67
Stanford at
Washington State
1/31 6:00 pm
Colorado at
1/31 8:30 pm
Utah at
2/1 12:30 pm
California at
2/1 1:00 pm
Washington at
2/4 7:00 pm
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