Much to players’ delight, Evansville leaves sleeves

When the University of Evansville men’s basketball team took the court for the first time this season, something was missing.

On Nov. 9, the Purple Aces entered the Roberts Stadium court without their trademark sleeves for the first time since 1986.

‘The day I was hired as athletic director,’ said Evansville’s Bill McGillis, who was brought in before the season, ‘I went to the players and asked them about the uniforms. They said to me, ‘They gotta go.’ ‘

After a long process with input from players, alumni, faculty and boosters, McGillis and new head coach Steve Merfeld decided to scrap the sleeves.

On Sept. 18, five returning Aces met the media wearing conventional basketball jerseys for the first time in nearly two decades. Now no Division I team wears sleeves.

‘We weren’t sure what the reaction of the community would be,’ McGillis said, ‘but it has been extremely positive.’

‘They’re cool,’ senior Tobias Brinkley told the Evansville Courier and Press. ‘It was time for a change. We had a couple of meetings about it, and it came up unanimous to get different uniforms.’

McGillis said Merfeld explained to the crowd at the unveiling that the tradition of Evansville basketball was not in the sleeves but in wearing the name “Evansville” across the chest. Merfeld’s explanation helped make the uniform change a positive process.

McGillis said the community and the university were ready for a change. He could count the number of complaints on one finger, he said.

‘We didn’t make this change because of what recruits might think, or because we wanted to be like everyone else,’ Merfeld said at the press conference. ‘The main reason for the change was player comfort, which was the same reason for Coach (Arad) McCutchan’s choice back in the ’40s.’

For the better part of 50 years, the men’s basketball team at Evansville became known for its trademark T-shirt-style uniforms introduced by McCutchan, a Hall of Fame coach, in 1947.

He thought the unique uniforms would be more comfortable to players used to wearing T-shirts during practice because of drafty conditions in the practice facility. McCutchan’s teams wore the jerseys for 31 years. During his tenure, the Aces won 514 games and five NCAA College Division championships.

After McCutchan retired in 1977, the sleeves were briefly retired until coach Jim Crews, now head coach at Army, decided to revive the tradition.

‘Crews brought back the sleeves as a tribute to Coach McCutchan and his players,’ Evansville Sports Information Director Bob Boxell said.

McGillis, the current athletics director, said a few players believed some recruits shied away from Evansville solely because of the sleeves.

‘It is unfortunate and sad that kids focus on material things,’ McGillis said. ‘But that is reality.’

To keep the tradition alive, Boxell said the Aces will wear red socks at all home games this season, another trademark of McCutchan’s teams.

‘Sometimes, change is good,’ junior guard Clint Cuffle told the Courier and Press. ‘Just because the sleeves aren’t there, the tradition still is.’

NO. 10 NOTRE DAME (+2.5) AT NO. 17 SYRACUSE

SATURDAY, 1 P.M., ESPN

Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh came to the Carrier Dome with a chance to become the nation’s No. 1 team and left with a heartbreaking, last-second loss.

Saturday, the Fighting Irish travel to Syracuse in an attempt to hand the Orangemen their first home loss of the season.

To protect their home court, the Orangemen will need an improved performance from guards Billy Edelin and Gerry McNamara, especially when defending Notre Dame point guard Chris Thomas.

PICK: SYRACUSE 65, NOTRE DAME 62

NO. 2 LOUISVILLE (-2.5) AT NO. 11 MARQUETTE

SATURDAY, 3:30 P.M., ABC

Louisville, the only team in the nation with one loss, travels to Milwaukee to meet conference-foe Marquette and Wooden Award candidate Dwyane Wade.

Led by Kentucky-transfer Marvin Stone and freshman Francisco Garcia, the Cardinals have a chance to be No. 1 for the first time since 1986 (with a win and an Arizona loss). Look for Louisville to be tested but pull out the victory with its strong inside game.

PICK: LOUISVILLE 70, MARQUETTE 66

NO. 8 DUKE (-5.5) AT VIRGINIA

SATURDAY, 9 P.M., ESPN

The usually mighty ACC has been down this year, with only three ranked teams in the Associated Press poll.

Virginia may be the conference’s only hope for a fourth at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Cavaliers recorded consecutive victories over North Carolina State and Maryland before falling to North Carolina last night.

Duke needs a solid performance from point guard Chris Duhon to avoid the conference upset.

PICK: DUKE 80, VIRGINIA 72

NO. 15 WAKE FOREST (+3.5) AT NO. 16 MARYLAND

SUNDAY, 8 P.M., NO TV

Senior forward Josh Howard leads upset-minded Wake Forest into College Park, Md., to play the defending national champions.

Maryland lost nearly its entire lineup from last year’s championship team but has still been solid behind point guard Steve Blake. The Terps need a victory to leap ahead of Wake Forest in the ACC standings. They play traditional rival Duke next week.

PICK: MARYLAND 77, WAKE FOREST 72

NO. 23 CONNECTICUT (-3.5) AT VILLANOVA

SATURDAY, NOON, WB (CH. 7)

After winning a crucial Big East game against Syracuse last Monday, Connecticut now plays Villanova for the lead in the Big East East Division.

UConn has the best shot-blocker in the country in Emeka Okafor and will dominate the Wildcats inside.

Villanova, led by senior guard Gary Buchanan, needs this game to get itself back on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid.

PICK: CONNECTICUT 81, VILLANOVA 68

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