When Jim Crews became head coach at West Point in 2002, he first met George Bush, for whom he was the spokesperson. The crews introduced themselves by mentioning that he had just arrived from Evansville, Indiana. Bush turned to the first lady and said..: Hey, Laura, this guy coached a team that was wearing sleeves.
Scott Schreffler remembers this story when he played for teams in Evansville from 1988 to 1993. Evansville was the first to introduce a sleeveless sweater in 1947 under the legendary head coach Arad McCutchan, who offered his team to wear sleeves on arrival.
I think that’s what most players wear in training and that’s why they feel most comfortable there, he said. It’s also more flattering for a skinny baseball player.
Evansville wore it until his retirement in 1977.
When Crews was hired in 1986, he did it in memory of the man they called Mac, and the team carried it on until the end of Crews’ employment in 2002. The sleeves gave national recognition to the program and the city.
In Evansville, sleeves are more than just an extra fabric on a knit. The Aces were a small varsity basketball team that won five national championships under McCutchan between 1959 and 1971.
In their time, the Aces were not only known for their sleeve uniforms – white and purple at home, orange on the way – they also wore colourful dresses on the sofa instead of trousers to keep warm, and then wore red McCutchan socks. Fans also wore red because of McCutchan.
Larry Hewes, one of the best players in the history of the programs – along with Jerry Sloan, who played from 1963 to 1965 – said as we moved forward, he crossed his legs and pulled up his pants to show off his red socks.
The undefeated national champion of 1965, the Aces, was one of the best student basketball teams of the time, at all levels, and Humes made no secret of it. We could have defeated anyone in the country that year, he says. We played Iowa, Northwest, Notre Dame, Purdue, LSU, South Illinois with Walt Fraser, Kentucky Wesleyan, North Dakota with Phil Jackson before we played our usual conference games.
Aces basketball games were major social events in Evansville, which is considered by many to be the largest small town in America. Everywhere there are different life experiences, but wherever you come from, Roberts Stadium was a common thread. The aces were among the country’s top ten in terms of participation in the divisions at the peak of their development. We’ve given them something to look at, says Humes. Robert’s Stadium was an incredible place at the time.
The sleeves symbolize better times – times that the people of Evansville have been trying to reclaim for decades. And although Evansville did not do so after McCutchan’s resignation and the devastating plane crash of 1977, there is still great pride in what has been achieved.
Schreffler returned to the EU in 1997 after working as a crew administrative assistant. One day teams arrived at the Carson Center on the EU campus and told Schreffler that I wanted you to do something about it. Schreffler asked him what he meant. The crews told him we have to respect them somehow. Write a poem, do something. Think of something and let me know.
Schreffler says I’m some kind of poem? That’s him: Yeah, a poem. Maybe it’s a poem.
It took Schreffler two weeks to write a poem. I wanted to try to draw attention to its uniqueness and what it means, why Arad McCutchan brought it here, the championships they held and the traditions of the University of Evansville, he said.
Schreffler made it up:
It’s an honor to wear sleeves. A tribute to a few chosen ones.
The sleeves are synonymous with mastery, attitude and desire. A tradition that raises the bar.
The respect they deserve is quite unique. The pursuit of excellence is the goal of all programmes.
Hard work, determination, success and pride are the hallmarks of sleeves known throughout the country.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Scott Haffner hung one of the most memorable games in the history of Evansville student basketball.
I took him to his office and stuff: Here, look at this, coach, Schreffler said. He read it, and I expected him to say it: No, do it, or go in a different direction or something. But he said: It’s perfect. I like it.
That’s what I am: Well, I guess I’m a poet now.
Next season Schreffler remembers a poem that was read to the group before the departure of the players and the match. The poem is now part of the legend of the Krauts, who were retired in 2002 by the then conductor Bill McGillis and coach Steve Merfeld.
There seems to be a general consensus among Evansville fans and current and former players that the sleeves should never come back forever, but that they should come for special occasions or matches. The last time the aces went for it was in 2018, but for the players it was a completely different experience.
Nike sponsors the University of Evansville, but doesn’t make basketball sleeves. The closest an EU with sleeves can get is a baseball sweater. So Nike made them, they hit the Aces scenario logo in front of them, and the aces went with t-shirts for the game.
The sets for 2018 looked a lot more like the traditionally worn aces than the Adidas basketball sets that Lebron James unfortunately tore during a game against the Knicks in 2015. But it was still a baseball jersey, and the players could smell it.
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Senior Noah Frederking says… It was harder for me because you caught fire so fast, and it was harder than what you were used to. He adds that if we had played all season, we would have gotten used to it.
And this is the argument that many people make against the return of the round – which would be uncomfortable and, more specifically, could ruin the jump. But it’s more of a convenient excuse for bad moves than anything else.
Humes says I still have 30 points. I could get an average of 50 points if [people] said they had a problem. It didn’t affect me at all.
However, the only thing that seems to be a real factor is the continuity and comfort that comes with going from no sleeves to no sleeves or vice versa. As soon as I auditioned for the Pacers and the Chicago Bulls, I felt naked as soon as I put on my normal knitwear, says Humes.
Former Creighton Blue Jay and current Indiana Pacers striker Doug McDermott explain the same thing. I really don’t think it’ll affect the jump, he says. When I took it off, I pulled even harder because I was so used to the T-shirt. So it took me a few years to get used to it, but now I couldn’t see myself in a shirt.
Mike Gancy, a former security guard from West Virginia and current assistant to the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, started wearing T-shirts in high school and eventually went to college. I’d feel weird without him. I couldn’t play my game or shoot like I wanted to. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t wearing a T-shirt or two.
When he became a pro, he wandered off the path and tried to wear something under his shirt.
I’ve always tried to ask the doctor to bring me a medical certificate stating that I can wear a T-shirt or a long-sleeved shirt or something like that, he says. I wasn’t myself and I couldn’t play my game without my shirt down.
However, Mr. Gansey admitted that the extra equipment may have consequences for other players who are not used to it than James in 2015. That clearly influenced him and his game, and he’s probably the best person who’s ever played the game, he says.
Markus Wilson, a 1999 player at a conference in the Missouri Valley, didn’t have game T-shirts, but he did say that training was a bit complicated.
In practice you have reversible knits with sleeves, so it was heavier, Wilson explains. If you train for three hours and sweat a lot, and it’s a reversible knitted fabric, you can tell it’s a tank top.
If we really want to limit the arguments to the simplest: Evansville won five national championships in the NCAA College Division (the predecessor of Division II) in the preliminaries. Scott Haffner lost 65 points at Dayton in February 1989, losing fifth place in the division one basketball game. They can’t be that bad.
Evansville wasn’t the only team that wore sleeves in the early days of basketball – a lot of teams did. In the future there will be other teams that will wear certain versions of the sleeves as an alternative or maybe even permanently, that may resemble Evansville or come closer to a modern, slimmer cut.
But it’s the sleeves that many Evansville players still identify with today, even though the aces haven’t worn sleeves regularly for 18 years. If you don’t know the program and its history, this is just another team from a small Midwestern town.
But when it comes to continuity, history and tradition, the Krauts belong to Evansville.