New uniforms a triple threat

Herald-Leader staff writerOctober 11, 2008 

To boil it down to the essentials, Kentucky basketball unveiled new uniforms on Friday.

But with all the sound and fury and hyperbole, it seemed like athletic worlds bonding to create a breakthrough into a new dimension of superiority.

The uniform is the product of "two iconic brands" working together, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said of Kentucky basketball and the sporting goods company Nike. "Then when you add the greatest horse of all time, it's a pretty neat trilogy."

Triple Crown winner Secretariat was the inspiration, a symbol of excellence linked to Kentucky. To complete the image, he raced in blue-and-white silks. Hence, the unveiling came at a dramatically lit Entertainment Centre Complex at Keeneland.

Elsewhere in the trilogy, UK supplied college basketball's winningest program — seven national championships, 43 Southeastern Conference titles. "A lot of special things," Barnhart said.

Nike, the company that gave the athletic world its ever-present swoosh logo, supplied the brain power, artistic touch and, to hear Tracy Teague, whose title is Global Creative Director, a high-tech advantage.

Because of innovations in fabric, the uniforms are 18 percent lighter than what other teams wear. "Imagine that in the fourth quarter," said Teague, coincidentally a native of Corbin.

The uniform tops are also form fitting, which will make it difficult for opponents to grab. "If they're made of extra baggy material, guys are grabbing onto that," Teague said.

According to a news release, UK players can count on "aerographics," an engineered mesh providing zoned cooling that reduces as much as half the yarn, and Nike's Dri-FIT technology. The latter increases "thermoregulation," (keeps the players cooler?), which means optimal performance, the release said.

UK Coach Billy Gillispie, who wore a dark suit and blue-and-white checked tie, joked about these high-tech weapons. He imagined calling a timeout to chastise his team, saying, "the uniforms are cooler and lighter and fit better than anyone else, and the other team is kicking your butt."

When asked about the advantage the uniforms provided, Gillispie paused and then said in a deadpan voice, "I think we'll be able to work harder and longer."

The audience, which included all the prospects attending UK's Midnight Madness, Secretariat's owner Penny Chenery and the horse's syndicator, noted Florida fan Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farms, laughed in appreciation.

To borrow a horse-racing term, the uniforms have a track record. They're modeled after the uniforms worn by the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won the gold medal in Beijing last summer. Nike spent 18 months working on the uniform, Teague said.

Besides the technology, the uniform also has symbolic value. A blue-and-white checkerboard, measuring four inches by two inches, is where a belt buckle would be. Its eight squares display numbers honoring UK's seven national championships. That leaves a blank square for another title.

"We have to fill in that last box," Gillispie said. "We'll give every ounce of energy (to win it)."

The uniforms also include two tributes to Bill Keightley, who worked in UK's equipment room since 1962 and died this spring. A black bar on the right shoulder has the words "Mr. Wildcat," Keightley's nickname. And the "K" in the name Kentucky across the chest will be white with a black border on the home uniform and black with a white border on the road uniform.

Barnhart said the tributes would be for this season, then UK would look for other ways to remember Keightley in the future.

Keightley's daughter, Karen Marlowe, voiced her approval. "Absolutely the most beautiful uniforms the University of Kentucky has ever had," she said. "I know Daddy would be so proud and so honored that you did this for him."

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