c.2015 New York Times News Service
c.2015 New York Times News Service
PITTSBURGH — In the second week of February, a shipment from Under Armour arrived at Notre Dame. Mixed in with hats and jumpsuits and T-shirts were the boxes that Harold Swanagan, the coordinator of basketball operations, was expecting.
“I opened them, and I was like, ‘These may be the weirdest-looking shoes in the world,’” Swanagan said.
It was as if they had been marinated in puréed Skittles, coated with ectoplasm and then dunked in Citrus Cooler-flavored Gatorade. They come with a free pair of sunglasses and are particularly useful for when Notre Dame plays its games in subway tunnels.
The precise color of the shoes, forward Austin Torres said, is difficult to explain. He tried: “Orange-red, neon green, neon yellow and kind of a lighter, darker green.”
Those hues have streaked across basketball courts over the last 2 1/2 weeks, offending traditionalists, clashing with the Irish’s gold jerseys and blinding viewers at home. As the Irish are quick to mention, they have also propelled them to six straight victories, including in the ACC tournament championship game against North Carolina.
Since debuting the shoes in a March 4 victory at Louisville, the Irish have not lost. Not all of their players opt to partake in attaching highlighters to their feet, but those who do — a group that includes forward Pat Connaughton, guard Demetrius Jackson and guard Steve Vasturia — seemed not to care about making a fashion statement. Vasturia said he preferred a white shoe but found this model, called Curry One, for Golden State guard Stephen Curry, more comfortable.
Zach Auguste said he needs more support, and the mid-cut style reduces wiggle room.
As long as it is made by Under Armour, which sponsors all varsity teams at Notre Dame, players can wear any shoe they like. The shoes in question arrived in mid-February, but were kept in storage until Feb. 23, the day before the Irish’s home game against Syracuse.
“We were preparing for other games,” Swanagan said, “and we didn’t want any distractions.”
When players entered the locker room, they found boxes on their chairs. Some players shrieked when they opened them.
“I like colorful shoes,” forward Bonzie Colson said. “I like shoes that pop. That’s kind of my style.”
Others stared at the shoes quizzically.
“I really wasn’t sure what to think,” Torres said, “because they’re obviously not our colors.”
They put them on anyway, and that first practice, coach Mike Brey kicked the players out of the gym. He told them to change their shoes.
“Too flashy, too fancy,” he told them, according to forward Auguste. “We don’t want that right now. That’s not us.”
But when the Irish lost to Syracuse, players changed their shoes to change their karma.
“And Coach Brey’s a big believer in karma,” said the assistant Martin Ingelsby.
Back when he played for the Irish, from 1997 to 2001, Ingelsby had two pairs of shoes — maybe three, he said — in two shades: one light, one dark.
“You’d try to match with your uniform,” Ingelsby said. “Now it’s, How different can you be? These guys like those Sour Patch Kids shoes.”
It is that candy, a favorite of Curry’s, that inspired the color, shaded Candy Reign, said Josh Rattet, the vice president of team sports footwear at Under Armour.
Since Notre Dame started wearing them, recruits have texted Ingelsby and Swanagan, asking to save them pairs. Many players are used to brighter shoes during summer leagues and on the AAU circuit, and so by the time they reach college, they are eager to continue standing out however they can.
“I see a lot of individuality in sneaker choices these days, and a lot of players are going for the vibrant look, the loud look,” George Kiel III, editor-in-chief of NiceKicks.com, a popular sneaker blog, said in a telephone interview. “But Notre Dame’s one of the few schools where you see it team-wide.”
Reveling in the increased visibility that the NCAA tournament (and the sponsored shoe and apparel companies) affords them, other programs are using this time of year to show off. Stephen F. Austin and Michigan State wear Day-Glo, while Alabama-Birmingham wears mismatched sneakers — one green, one gray — to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.
It just looks different and disorienting for stolid Notre Dame, with its blue and gold.
“Would I buy them? No,” said Austin Burgett, one of the bigger sneakerheads on the team. “I’ve gotten questions like, ‘Why’d you buy them?’ Every time my answer’s the same: I didn’t buy them. They gave them to me. If anything, I’ll go home and give them to one of my friends.”
Whenever Curry debuts a shoe, the Irish can start wearing it the next day, Swanagan said, and just this week a new version — black — was given to them. That is more Auguste’s style, he said, but soon he may have even more choices.
If Notre Dame beats Butler on Saturday night, Swanagan said he was hoping to speak with the Under Armour representative about possibly getting new shoes to wear for the round of 16. He seemed open to the potential.
“Orange?” Swanagan said. “Sure, it’s possible.”