How Ohio State and Nike created team's new basketball uniforms

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra

The message boards of are a treasure trove of details for the uniform-obsessed members of the sports community. When 10-year-old Joe Gemma would create his own concept uniforms for fun, years before he would earn a degree in advertising and graphic design from Columbus College of Art & Design, it was a community he would visit to obsess over details, debate changes and show off personal creations.

It was a pretty big deal, then, when Gemma saw the newly redesigned uniforms for the Ohio State men’s and women’s basketball teams on the website. After all, Gemma played a key role in helping the Buckeyes with their most significant uniform overhaul in nearly a decade.

Ohio State's new basketball uniforms

“If you would’ve told me as a kid that something I had to do with was on the front page of that website it would’ve blown my mind,” Gemma told The Dispatch. “It was a really big moment for me personally and I think it puts our university in a good light.”

Gemma, who is officially listed as a graphic designer in Ohio State's six-member Creative Services and Branding department and primarily works with the men’s basketball program, was not alone in the redesign efforts. The process of refreshing the uniforms, which were publicly unveiled Oct. 16, began roughly two years ago at the behest of partner Nike.

What followed was a year’s worth of concepts, suggestions and tweaks. It began with Nike asking some simple questions: What is important about being a Buckeye? What mottos are important to your program? What do you consider iconic about your jerseys?

Senior forward Kyle Young wears the new scarlet uniform.

Director of basketball operations David Egelhoff looped in Gemma, video coordinator Kyle Davis and members of the university’s licensing and marketing department to start the discussions.

“Joe’s in our office dealing with us but he’s also in tune with what’s going on across the country,” Egelhoff said. “He has been meeting with creative design people here at Ohio State in the athletic department and elsewhere to see what’s coming down the pipeline university-wide so we can start incorporating some of those things into our uniforms so we’re on-brand with what’s going on bigger-picture than just basketball.”

That meant more than a few challenges while putting these uniforms, which for the first time will be worn by both the men’s and women’s programs.

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One priority was to see the return of the Buckeye stripe down the sides after being relegated to only the shoulder portions of the jerseys in recent years. That required multiple conversations with trademark and licensing, which is in the process of trademarking the stripe that adorns the football team’s helmets, because the center line in the stripe is scarlet.

A scarlet stripe on the side of a predominantly scarlet jersey wouldn’t look right, so a gray compromise was reached.

“There’s little intricacies like that, where it’s not going to look good with scarlet on scarlet,” Egelhoff said. “Those are little things we have to work through and it took a few months to work through, but (the scarlet uniform) wouldn’t look as good without gray in it.”

The inside of the back seams of the jerseys feature the phrase, “Our Family * Our Program,” something Gemma said Davis had introduced as a program tagline years ago. The Buckeye leaf was kept on the jerseys, one step toward creating something Gemma said was aimed to be simultaneously new and familiar.

The finished product is the first significant uniform change since 2011.  

“I know when you first see them compared to our old uniforms, they are very different in a lot of ways,” Gemma said. “No one would ever look at us and be confused they’re not the new uniforms or whatever. Unrecognizable and yet familiar is a way I’m looking at these.”

From left, Ohio State's Justin Ahrens, Kyle Young, CJ Walker and Duane Washington Jr. wear the Ohio State basketball team's new uniforms.

The reaction by the players was unanimously positive, Gemma said. When he sent a group message asking for players to come to Value City Arena to model them for a photoshoot, he had to settle on a few upperclassmen because the demand was too great.

Engaging and exciting the players is the ultimate goal of the process.

“We want them to be good for the fans and we want them to look good, but if the guys think they look bad and if recruits think they look bad then we’ve failed,” Gemma said. “They were really excited about them. They feel like they look like an NBA team, which is fun to hear.”

There’s still more to come. In addition to the primary uniforms, the scarlet script alternates and the gray throwback jerseys, two more alternates are yet to be announced. They figure to arrive at Ohio State sometime in the next month or two as Nike deals with logistical challenges related to COVID-19.

“We probably won’t release those to the public until the day or so before we wear them,” Gemma said.