NEW ORLEANS – Ohio State’s Jordan Sibert defies basketball’s conventional wisdom.
He doesn’t tape his ankles and he wears low tops.
He’s asking for trouble.
“I’ve rolled my ankle so many times,” Sibert said this weekend at the Final Four in New Orleans. “Even if I do roll my ankles it doesn’t bother me anymore.”
Sibert, a sophomore from Cincinnati, started wearing low tops in seventh grade when the Nike Zoom LeBron 2 Low came out. Sibert’s favorite player was LeBron James, then in his second year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sibert started wearing the low tops because of the name on the shoe but quickly discovered the freedom they allow. Even multiple ankle rolls and sprains haven’t convinced Sibert to wear mid or high tops again.
And he’s not the only one.
Sibert is one of five players at the Final Four who sport lows, three of whom play for Ohio State. It’s a growing trend in basketball, especially the college game, but it’s a flash back to a time when players like Bill Russell wore low tops.
Former Georgetown coach John Thompson said when he coached, most players wore high tops, but there were a few lows sprinkled in.
“Back when I played, there were low cut shoes,” said Thompson, who played for Providence in the early 1960s. “A lot of people were told that you’d turn your ankle and that kind of thing, but now they have so many different ankle braces, trainers that are taping ankles, you might as well have a high top shoe on.”
Last season, none of the Buckeyes wanted to wear low tops, Ohio State trainer Vince O’Brien said. This year, that’s changed. Joining Sibert in low tops are senior William Buford and freshman LaQuinton Ross.
The other two players sporting lows at the Final Four were Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague and Louisville point guard Peyton Siva.
Most of the five have a history of ankle injuries, yet continue to choose comfort and maneuverability over their health.
Siva severely sprained his left ankle in November and had to wear mids until the Big East tournament started in March, when he switched to the Adidas Crazy Light Low.
Siva and his low top counterparts in the Final Four give the same reasons for going low.
“The feel real light on my feet and they’re real comfortable to wear,”
Siva said. “Ever since I started wearing low tops, I’ve been asking Adidas and been asking our equipment manager, can they please find me some low tops because a lot of the low tops they make weren’t really basketball shoes. “ When Siva asked Louisville equipment manager Vinny Tatum about wearing low tops, Tatum went to Cardinals coach Rick Pitino. Pitino gave Siva and Tatum the all clear, partly, Tatum said, because the coach wears the Crazy Light Low himself.
Every Louisville player gets either taped or wears an ankle brace, Tatum said. But Siva is the only Cardinal to wear lows during games.
Just like Teague.
The Kentucky freshman isn’t concerned about spraining, twisting or rolling his ankle.
“It’s just like what I like to play in. It’s no big deal,” Teague said. “I’ve worn them for a while now, for a few years.
“I have no problems in them.”
Kentucky’s equipment manager, Bo Rodriguez, said this week that he can only offer so many Nike styles to players, but if they want to wear another shoe, they can, and Kentucky coach John Calipari has no problems with it.
So Teague bought his own low tops.
“Cal always said it’s a player-first team so we’ve had to move forward with what they’ve felt comfortable in,” Rodriguez said. “It makes me nervous to see them out there in low tops, but if they’re comfortable … The kid could probably wear cinder blocks and he’d be fine.”
While doctors would prefer to see basketball players wearing high tops, most believe low tops are acceptable, only under two conditions:
A player doesn’t have a history of ankle injuries and they get taped.
“There’s some debate whether tape helps or if it’s more of a sprain deterrent compared to a shoe or a brace,” said Dr. Jamie Yakel, a Colorado orthopedist and president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. “If they have their ankles taped and wear a low cut shoe, it’s probably OK, but the high tops have an extra layer of protection.”
But Yakel, who played college basketball at Divison II Nebraska-Kearney, was quick to point out that tape usually loses its stability after about 30 minutes. And he refuses to wear low tops even today when he plays a few days a week.
Yakel estimated he sees 10 ankle injuries a month during basketball season. Half the players wear high tops and the other wear lows.
Dr. Michelle Butterworth, president of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, urges her patients to wear high tops but agreed with Yakel.
“The idea of wearing the high top is to give your ankle more stability,” Butterworth said. “Others say that’s too inhibiting. I think that’s probably OK if you don’t have a history of injuries but I think it opens you up to more injuries.”
Butterworth also doesn’t see the use of wearing low tops and taping or wearing a brace because it “defeats the purpose.”
Yakel believes it could be mental.
“I think going with a high top shoe and an ankle brace is more psychosomatic than anything,” he said.
In 2010, 27 NBA players wore low tops during games, a trend that started in 2006 when Adidas rolled out a low for Gilbert Arenas. Then two years later, Nike designed a low top for Kobe Bryant and the rage spread like a wildfire across all levels of basketball.
Ross, the Ohio State freshman who wears lows, said one of his former AAU teams were outfitted with the Adidas lows worn by Arenas. Not even a bad ankle injury his sophomore year of high school could dissuade Ross from going low.
“If I get hurt in the high tops I can get hurt in the low tops,” he said. “If I’m going to get hurt, I’m going to get hurt regardless.
“I try not to think about it because that moment you think about getting hurt, that’s the moment you get hurt.”
And the first sign of ankle injuries will be the last time any of them wear low tops, trainers and equipment managers from the Final Four teams said.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta takes a new-school approach to what his players wear: He doesn’t pay attention.
“I don’t want to sound unintelligent here, but I didn’t even notice,”
Matta said this week. “Whatever they’re comfortable with.
“I don’t even know their numbers to be honest. I just know who they are and what they can do on the court, so I apologize.”