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Shoe Talk: When Will the Under Armour Deal Start to Pay Off for Maryland?

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I am wearing an Under Armour hoodie - black and red, of course - as I type this. I have a pair of Under Armour running shoes. Under Armour is impossible to escape from if you watch ESPN or walk around a gym. People wear Under Armour all the time, even when they're not working out. High school athletes especially love it; I always see people wearing UA armbands, cleats, and headbands when I go to HS games.

When will Maryland, as the birthplace of Under Armour, feel that love?

Let me preface this by saying that this isn't something just formed from the possibility about Terrence Ross, nor am I trying to suggest that, if Ross were having doubts, it has anything to do with shoes; I've been wondering about this since summer, and this is just a good vehicle to move it through.

Maryland dumped Nike for Under Armour last year, becoming the first school to go full Under Armour, which makes sense given their history as a company. I won't lie: there have been some benefits, as UA can be counted on to provide some money down the line and, on the football front, there's no faster-growing, cooler brand than Under Armour. Sad thing, then, that brands do very little to influence the choice of football recruits.

At least, not in the way they do in basketball. You don't need to do any more than Google Sonny Vaccaro to know about the influence sneakers and brand names have on the dark side of college basketball, and even though Gary Williams refuses to touch the gray - or, at least, sometimes - it's still there.

Recruits, as much as we try to ignore it and believe it doesn't exist, are heavily influenced by (or even placed by) brands. Look at Josh Selby, for example. Look at the Lance Stephenson speculation. Who knows about Ross? After all, he is from Portland and has been in Jordan Brand all of his life, so it's not a ridiculous stretch. 

Leaving Nike Elite for UA in basketball might not've been the greatest decision from that aspect; or, at the very least, it was rushed. With the big names of Adidas and Nike able to influence recruits because they grew up with the men representing the brands, having a completely unestablished brand as your supplier can make recruiting difficult. Brandon Jennings' greatness be damned, UA is a drop in a puddle compared to the clout of Adidas' NBA contract and Nike with Jordan and James. Oh, don't forget: they don't even have any shoes available for retail yet.

Even though, as I mentioned a paragraph or two ago, Gary doesn't want to get involved in the shoes deal, at least not having it work against Maryland would be a plus, and that could be accomplished by Under Armour getting their stuff together on the grassroots side. If the can, maybe Gary doesn't even need to start working that angle and kids (or Plank) will do it themselves. If UA becomes a popular basketball brand, Maryland could have a monster on their side. Obviously, retailing would be a big help too, but I'd rather them take their time with that and nail this quickly.

They've made plenty of in-roads in NYC high school ball, and if you haven't been to Baltimore recently, the Under Armour presence is palpable, at least for an outsider. Those are the areas Maryland should be attacking, because there won't be nearly as much anti-UA sentiment coming from a UA program or a UA city. Until they can get more HS deals and (especially) set up AAU deals quick, they won't be major players, meaning Maryland has no advantage.

Of course, once they start getting Brandon Jennings on TV all the time and they have products available for retail, it'll get a bit easier to accomplish those tasks. But until those two things happen, Maryland's fighting against the grain for the next few years. In retrospect, perhaps waiting for UA to develop as a brand before diving head-first might've been a better decision.

That's not to say the decision was awful - UA will eventually get up to speed, and when they do they will be a major force due to the "cool" factor that won't drop for several years, and when it does they'll probably have a tradition (like Nike) big enough to overcome it.

They'll get shoes out probably in late 2010 or early 2011. If they're successes, Maryland will reap the benefits just as much as UA will. Once they approach Nike level, the hope is that Maryland begins to see some more money tossed their way and some more special attention, ala Nike with Oregon. Seeing what it's done for their programs is nothing if not encouraging; hopefully UA is as careful with UMD as Nike is with Oregon.