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A History of Kansas Basketball Uniforms: Alternates and Throwbacks

The fourth part in a five part series examining KU's rich basketball heritage from an aesthetic standpoint.

Matthew Holst

Season after season, the Kansas basketball team looks like Kansas- white at home and blue on the road and we’ve examined those over the last three weeks. But there have been some occasions where KU doesn’t exactly look like what we’re used to. Today, we take a closer look at the alternate jerseys, throwback and Fauxback sets, and experimental uniforms that KU has worn over the years.

The Red Alternate

The red alternate has been a staple in the Kansas uniform cycle since 2003, but in order to find the first occasion that KU donned the red uniform as an alternate, you’d have to skip all the way back to 1986. Kansas broke out the red jerseys for their national semifinal appearance against Duke. The appearance in the Final Four was KU’s first in twelve years, and they promptly lost while wearing the reds. Apparently, the loss was so scarring that Kansas didn’t break out the red alternates again for 24 seasons.

Of course, the red alternate went down in Kansas lore on March 7, 2004. That’s the day that David Padgett chucked up a desperation game winner against Missouri in the final game ever at the Hearnes Center in Columbia. KU probably should have hung up the red jersey for good on that date, but until 2013, KU has had a red jersey at their disposal. For all their jersey iterations between 2003 and 2013, KU has had a red alternate to match. Out of the possible choices (2003-2005, 2005-2007, 2007-2010, 2010-2013), the ones that were worn from 2007 until 2010 are my favorite. Bill Self has gone on record stating that he doesn’t really care for the red jerseys but for a while there, KU was contractually obligated to wear them at least twice. For many seasons, one of those appearances came in an exhibition game.

Uniform Highlights: At first I loved them, now they look dated…except that first one when we closed the doors at Hearnes with a win. That will always be a good look.

Overall Grade: C


KU has honored two of their NCAA title teams recently with games featuring great throwback jerseys. On February 11, 2012, KU wore replicas of the uniforms that were worn by KU’s 1952 title team. Sixty years later, the styles that the players wear has certainly changed, but the throwbacks were as sharp as ever. My favorite feature of these uniforms is the striping on the shorts. I hope KU adopts something like this as a full time uniform feature sometime soon.

Uniform Highlights: Stripes!

Overall Grade: A-

On February 23, 2013, KU honored the 1988 title team with some great throwbacks to that era. These were executed perfectly as well and the only anomaly that I could find was the socks. KU wore era-style socks for the 1952 throwback, but went with their regular socks for the 1988 throwback game a year later. Why? From what I can tell, KU wore plain white socks at home in 1988. That should be easy to replicate, no?

Uniform Highlights: Circus font, large K

Overall Grade: A


Last season, KU debuted two beautiful alternate jerseys that each had a little retro flair. The cream colored (referred to as "Chalk" by Adidas) are the first KU basketball uniform to use the word "Jayhawks" instead of "Kansas" and they look great. The script font is a classic look and adding an outlined Jayhawk head on the shorts was a great idea. The fact that the uniform is completely blue and white is certainly a new look for KU, but I like it. I’m not sure that the design would be as effective if red were added.

The grey colored ("Phog") alternate is an absolute masterpiece. It takes everything great from that 1988 uniform and makes it fresh. The circus font returns, this time in white outlined in red. It looks great against the "Phog" background and the subtle pinstripes are embedded with various phrases unique to KU such as "Pay Heed" and "Rock Chalk Jayhawk". The pinstripes appear on the "Chalk" uniforms as well, but are unable to be seen from distance. Adidas has made some poor uniform decisions over the years, but they got these absolutely right.

Uniform Highlights: The script on the "Chalk"; Everything about the "Phog"

Overall Grade: A-; A

One-Offs and Special Occasion Jerseys

The most famous one time use jersey in KU history happened on December 3, 1987 in a road game at Western Carolina. For that one game, KU wore bright yellow uniforms. KU won that game, but the backlash from fans was so great that the uniforms were never seen again. Taken as a stand alone, and if you have no affiliation with Kansas, the jerseys aren’t that bad. They use the same template as the 1987-1988 team wore and they feature a font all KU fans love. The problem is that yellow is not a school color. If this were Michigan, or California or god-forbid, Missouri, these uniforms might have stuck around. As it stands, they are a novelty and an answer to a trivia question. Will we see these as throwbacks during the 2017 season? I kind of hope so.

Uniform Highlights: Unique. It was a bold and innovative move for 1987.

Overall Grade: D-

Fast forward twenty-five years, and you’ll see that KU wore some weird jerseys in the 2012-2013 season. Remember the away game at West Virginia where KU wore an Adidas concoction that was almost completely blue? Yep, those looked pretty strange. And remember what KU would have had to wear if they were ever designated as the road team in the 2013 Big XII or NCAA tournament? There are so many (All?) Kansas fans that are glad that we never had to endure those atrocities. But, KU did wear the tamer and almost as ugly home versions in the Big XII tournament opener against Texas Tech. Perhaps many people have forgotten it because of the early start time. I wish I had. Could these uniform designers just stay away from camo and zubaz and any other stupid pattern already?

Uniform Highlights: WVU game: At least they got the shade of blue right. Camo: Burning these in a dumpster fire would be a disservice to the dumpster.

Overall Grade: C, F

Adidas did a much better job for the 2014 postseason. In fact, I like these uniforms better than the standard KU set for 2013-14 for one reason: the Jayhawk is back to the bottom of the shorts where it belongs. The regular set keeps the beloved KU logo on the hip. These uniforms also feature a gradient of red and blue on the shoulders and bottom of the shorts. The pattern looks pretty good. The problem with this set is that every Adidas equipped team in the NCAA tournament was also wearing this template, taking away any specialness that it might have.

Uniform Highlights: More subtle on the shoulders than the regular 13-14 set which is good thing. Jayhawk on the shorts.

Overall Grade: B

That’s it for this week. Next week we preview the upcoming season and the new uniforms, if there are any surprises in store for the season and much more. Again, if there are any glaring omissions or errors, please feel free to point them out in the comments section.