Play Great, Look Great...

How will these uniforms be judged? Say what you want right now, you'll change your opinion according to one factor.

It was easy to see what was going on, right in your face.

One by one, athletes were called to the stage and walked with a strut and the confidence of a high school senior fresh off a trip to the mall with mom's credit card.

Donovonn Young and Nnanna Egwu and the rest of the bunch felt cool in their new uniforms during Wednesday's brand launch party. Young took mock handoffs in front of a mirror. He liked the way he looked. Egwu dribbled an imaginary basketball and hoisted a shot. He liked the way he looked.

I guarantee it.

And that's really all that matters about Illinois' new brand and uniforms. Kids want to feel cool these days. And why wouldn't they? This look made them feel cool.


At least to me, rebranding use to be a Don Draper tactic. Losing too much? Find trouble regarding your program's relation to relevance? Pressure mounting to get it done?

Change the conversation. Change the look.

Think about it… Alabama, Texas, Southern Cal, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Nebraska… Those guys don't need a rebrand. Their identity is winning. It's a strong one.

It use to be that teams that changed a lot probably weren't winning all that often. I mean, how many new helmets will it take before Indiana just gives up and punts?

While the Illinois football team is 1-15 in Big Ten games under Tim Beckman and the basketball team is (hopefully) just taking flight with John Groce in charge, it would make sense that the Illini would take the approach of a Madison Avenue ad man.

There's more to it now though.

Florida State just won the national title. They're solidified. Yet the Seminoles changed their logo and were measured for new suits this offseason, too.

Why? Leverage in recruiting doesn't keep long.

Oregon is probably why the game has changed. The Ducks are the centerfold of a Nike creative nirvana that recruits love to love. What is Oregon's primary logo or official colors? I don't know for sure. But those guys win and put on new uniforms seemingly every Saturday.

Tradition is still marketable. But now-a-days new is cool, too. Illinois' case was more than needing to out-dress the opponent though. This is part of something bigger — the commitment, outwardly and inwardly, to giving coaches every tool in order to recruit and win. The Illini needed to flash the joint up.

This rebrand is one of the first things Mike Thomas knew he had to do when you took the job in 2011.

Since that time, he's given Memorial Stadium a mega-jumbo-tele-tron. If you've been there lately it doesn't matter where you're at, you feel like you're getting away with sitting too close to the TV. Assembly Hall isn't called that anymore. State Farm Center is getting a makeover.

It's in good hands. There's a lot of money being thrown at these projects. It takes truck loads of Franklins, naturally. But even more importantly, it takes creative thinking. It seems Thomas is just cranking it up because there's more planned upgrades all over the athletic program.

In sum, Thomas is doing his best to give his coaches the best possible pitch.

"I don't know if uniforms can help you recruit, but it sure can't hurt you," tight end Matt LaCosse told me.

That's spot on. If you're the Illinois football staff, you're grinding and working as hard as you possibly can to sign the best recruits. Are uniforms gonna be the deciding factor? Probably not. But you can't provide any reason — no matter how small it may seem — for a kid to rule you out.

You need the facilities, the shiny helmets, endless tops and pants combos, slick logos, million-pixel video screens and on and on. That's what Illinois is trying to do, build a platform from which to move into the future (with success).

How will these uniforms be judged? Say what you want right now, you'll change your opinion according to one factor. Winning.

How do I know this? Be honest with me, what's your favorite version of the basketball uniform? I know your answer.

When Dee and Deron were here. When the team won.

OK, I could be wrong. Maybe it was what the Flyin' Illini wore. You know, when they won.

Michigan's Fab Five made baggy shorts cool… by getting to two Final Fours. Oregon could've been Maryland — outlandish and stupid-looking — but instead is cool and trendy… by getting to the National Title game.

On the stage Wednesday, Egwu said Groce tells the team: "Look good, play good."

I understand the motivational needs for such slogans. But it's always the other way around.

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