So far, Irish deal with UnderArmour a good fit

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Just when Notre Dame sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson and his feet felt at home, school ties dictated that he find a new one.


And again.

On his way to becoming the leading scorer in Northern Indiana Conference history (1,934) at Marian High School, Jackson had long preferred to wear the Nike brand of basketball shoes. That changed late in his senior year – after his final season had ended – when he was named a 2013 McDonald’s All-American. Adidas swooped in with a whole bunch of free gear – basketball shoes, training shoes, even flip-flops – for the March 2013 game.

Jackson wore adidas during his freshman season at Notre Dame. But that would change again heading into his second season after Notre Dame became the 13th Division I school to sign with UnderArmour. The 10-year deal, reportedly worth at least $90 million, was announced in late January hours before an Atlantic Coast Conference game at Florida State. The deal commenced July 1 when Notre Dame’s previous agreement with adidas expired. Adidas had been Notre Dame’s main apparel and shoe provider since 1997.

Jackson never wore adidas before the McDonald’s game. And he never gave UnderArmour much thought before the summer when he had to get acclimated to a third shoe in as many years.

So far, so good.

“All the UnderArmour stuff is a blessing,” he said. “We’re really happy to have it. It’s just a comfortable fit for me.”

UnderArmour is still relatively new to the basketball shoe world. According to Hoops Hype, only 13 NBA players, notably All-Star guard Stephen Curry, wear UnderArmour. That compares to 284 NBA players with Nike and 77 for adidas.

Adidas was founded in 1924, Nike in 1964. UnderArmour started in 1996.

One reason that returning to Notre Dame appealed to guard Jerian Grant, who spent the spring semester separated from the university because of an "academic misstep,” was a chance to wear the new brand. A native of Bowie, Md., Grant knew well of UnderArmour, a company based in Baltimore. For junior power forward Austin Burgett, the chance to try something new seemed fine by him.

“I don’t know if there was anything appealing about them,” he said. “So far, I like them.”

Burgett is one of the team’s resident sneaker junkies. Collecting assorted kicks runs in the family. One of his grandmothers loved shoes. A cousin also collected them. Burgett estimates that he has at least 30 pairs of sneakers, mainly Nikes. A rare pair of Air Jordan 11s are his favorite.

“It just kind of rubbed off,” Burgett said. “It’s just something I’ve always liked.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino made sneaker headlines in the fall when he complained that being affiliated with a certain company, in his case, adidas, limits the talent pool he has to choose from in recruiting. If a prospect he’s pursuing plays for an AAU team that has strong ties to another shoe company, say Nike, Pitino believes it’s difficult for him to recruit the player because his school endorses a rival brand.

Irish coach Mike Brey didn’t run into many of those recruiting obstacles during his first summer in UnderArmour.

“The clientele that we connect with, the kids that want to come here, the shoe company stuff will be very secondary to the total package here,” Brey said. “Every guy in that locker room wanted a degree from here. The education and academic side probably trumps some of that.”

Kids do keep tabs on which schools wear what brand. It’s not one of the main topics of a conversation that Brey and his assistants have with a prospect and his parents, but it is part of the dialogue. It came up as Notre Dame recruited and signed its 2015 class of high school seniors Elijah Burns, Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan. It’s happening now as Notre Dame evaluates high school juniors.

“Kids are very aware of who you’re with,” Brey said.

And very aware that UnderArmour has carved a unique place in college basketball.

“It’s a sexy product to wear and the shoes have really closed the gap,” Brey said. “I do like our relationship with UnderArmour to help us in recruiting. In this college basketball world of recruiting, you need all the ammunition you can get.”

UnderArmour provides Notre Dame with basketball shoes, practice gear, game jerseys, shower shoes and travel gear. They even offer special socks designed to prevent blisters. The ones that the Irish wear come with specific “L” and “R” designations.

“I guess people don’t know what foot to put them on nowadays,” Burgett said. “I switch them up sometimes. I can’t find a left, I wear two rights.”

Each Irish has received four pairs of shoes in whatever style they prefer – low, mid-cut or high-tops. The 6-foot-9 Burgett prefers anything but high-tops, which he feels are restrictive for the way he wants to cut and run and jump.

“I can’t move in high-tops,” Burgett said. “My ankles feel like they’re locked in place. I like being able to move and the flexibility.”

The 6-1 Jackson also prefers low-cut shoes, which makes it easier for him to get around.

“They’re easy to play in,” he said. “All the stuff is really light.”

Senior captain Pat Connaughton occasionally changes up his shoe combinations. Some days, he’ll go the mid-cut route. Other days, high-tops are it. Much of it depends on how his body, and his feet, feel.

A standout pitcher who spent the summer with a Class-A team of the Baltimore Orioles, Connaughton also had a choice of cleats. He went with UnderArmour, partly because of the school’s affiliation with the brand, partly because they’re also pretty popular.

“Baseball-wise, they’re second to Nike,” he said.

UnderArmour also designed Notre Dame’s alternate third jersey this season. In addition to the traditional home whites and road blues, UnderArmour has provided a mustard gold/green combination that the Irish wear for big games – the ACC/Big Ten Challenge overtime victory over Michigan State and the ACC opener over Florida State. That look also comes with green shoes.

“Those,” Jackson said, “are great uniforms.”

Jackson was a senior at Marian when adidas outfitted Notre Dame in a lime-green (think Shamrock Shake) uniform that made its debut at the 2013 Big East tournament. It didn’t go over well with President Barack Obama, who picked the Irish to lose to Iowa State in the 2013 NCAA tournament because of the look, or in the Irish locker room.

“These,” Burgett said with a sigh, “are a lot better.”

Fashion aside, Jackson doesn’t mind what the uniforms or shoes or socks really look like or who likes them, just as long as it all helps in the one area that most matters.

“At the end of the day, you want to play basketball,” he said. “Regardless of what you put on, you’ve got to play hard and do what you’ve got to do.”

WORTH NOTING: Tuesday’s game starts 30 minutes later than originally scheduled because of the Music City Bowl game between Notre Dame and LSU, which kicks at 3. … Yolonzo Moore II scored 19 points and was one of five players in double figures in Hartford’s 82-69 victory Dec. 21 over Florida International. Taylor Dyson added 16 points, including 14 in the first four minutes. The Hawks set season highs for points and 3-pointers (13). … Four starters return off last year’s team that finished 17-16 overall, 10-6 and third place in the America East. … The Hawks are picked to finish second to Stony Brook in the America East. … Hartford went 2-3 during an 11-day offseason foreign tour of Australia. … Its roster features players from Alaska, Australia, Ireland and Wisconsin. … Hartford ranks 279th in scoring offense (62.8) and 251st in field-goal percentage defense (44.3). … This starts a stretch of three of four games on the road for the Hawks, who are 3-2 away from home with wins at Niagara, Quinnipiac and Holy Cross. … Senior co-captain/forward Nate Sikma (4.5 ppg., 3.3 rpg.) is the son of seven-time NBA all-star Jack Sikma. … Notre Dame is 1-0 against the America East this season (Binghamton) and 13-0 overall. … This is the first meeting between the teams. … Notre Dame has won eight-straight games. … The Irish are 10-0 at home with an average margin of victory of 28.4 points. … They have been idle since a 91-66 victory Dec. 22 over Northern Illinois. … Senior captain Pat Connaughton has averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds the last two games. He has a team-high five double doubles this season, 12 for his career. … The Irish lead the nation in field-goal percentage (55.6 percent) and assist/turnover ratio (1.77). They rank fourth in scoring margin (+25.2) and fifth in offense (86.1). … This is the highest the Irish have been in the national polls since finishing the 2010-11 season ranked No. 5. … Notre Dame (1-0) resumes Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday at home against Georgia Tech.

WORTH QUOTING: “We’ve got a great vibe about us. We’ve got a great spirit about us.” -Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. | (574) 235-6153 | @tnoieNDI

The Notre Dame men's basketball team is in its first season with UnderArmour as its main shoe and apparel outfitter. (SBT Photo/JOE RAYMOND)

WHO: No. 14 Notre Dame (12-1) vs. Hartford (7-5).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: None. The game can be seen online at ESPN3 and WatchND.TV.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at