Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)
Under Armour has been all over the news lately. From hosting the nation’s top high school hoopers in the Elite 24 event in Brooklyn, to making a wild run at Kevin Durant’s endorsement (which may have been a buzz-generating ploy if nothing else), to most recently surpassing adidas as the No. 2 company in the U.S. in combined footwear and apparel sales. While UA certainly would have loved to add Durant to its stable of athletes, the past few months can generally be considered a success for the Baltimore-based brand.
That’s all well and good but as a hooper, I’ve been interested in UA’s latest technological innovation – the ClutchFit uppers that have been turning up across a variety of UA footwear. Designed as a second-skin, the rubbery textile overlays are intended to flex naturally with the foot and provide support via a kind of web/weave when force is applied. The result is supposed to be a closer-to-the-foot fit and better flexibility.
I’m always curious about new shoe tech, whether it’s cushioning systems or different textiles and support structures for the upper, and the ClutchFit Drive piqued that interest. Even better, the shoe – and the technology – delivered.
As you know, everything starts with fit when it comes to performance hoops shoes, and the ClutchFit Drive is pretty close to perfect when it comes to overall fit and lockdown.
I went with an 11.5 and didn’t feel the need to drop down to an 11 for a more snug fit. The width is average (some shoes, like the Kobe IX, seemed very tight under the midfoot – not so with the ClutchFit Drive) and should suit most players. There’s adequate room in the toebox too.
As mentioned before, ClutchFit was designed as a second skin for the foot. It’s supposed to deliver a thinner upper while the webbed structure provides dynamic support when it’s needed. And it does exactly that. There’s no slippage at all when laced up – thanks also to a full-length, high ankle inner bootie – and the upper flexes naturally through the foot strike. I felt secure and locked in at all times.
The high cut is probably a love/hate feel for most players, and I am somewhat of a fence rider in that discussion. I honestly prefer lows and love the mobility of a lower collar, and at first I didn’t like the feel of the padding and inner sleeve all the way up my ankle. It didn’t affect me in any way, other than me just noticing it, and after awhile I wasn’t aware of the high cut because of the fantastic flexibility of the upper. Still, I’d probably prefer the low version if/when it drops in some capacity.
It is also surprisingly well-padded, especially around the collar, and the stretchy, dynamic fit of the upper was a joy to play in.
Full-length Micro G with no midfoot shank provides an extremely responsive and smooth ride. You’ll feel like you’re gliding from heel strike to toe off. The lack of a shank does have its minor drawbacks (covered later) but the quality of Micro G foam and thicker outsole rubber provide some of the smoothest transitions you’ll find.
I’ve long been a fan of Micro G cushioning and it’s fantastic on court once again. I think it’s the best foam compound on the market today, and it’s utilized perfectly here. Cushioning is consistent thanks to full-length Micro G, and plays extremely low to the ground and stable. It’s highly responsive and simply feels natural underfoot.
It scores well on each of our three scales, but cushioning is always going to have a personal element. For me, I like my shoes to have some support built in. I’ve played competitively in high school, college, and dozens of local leagues, and had both hips reconstructed after my freshman year of college ball. I know my body well, and I know that I need a certain amount of midfoot support to keep me feeling good after a competitive game or hour-long workout.
The KD7 is the most recent shoe to meet that need (I also felt the Anatomix Spawn and Crazyquick were good in this area), but the ClutchFit Drive gave me a surprising amount of support given the way it is built. It’s built to be flexible and doesn’t have any kind of midfoot shank. But the firm Micro G setup and high-quality rubber outsole give it enough support that I can hoop in these all day.
Full-length herringbone with deep tread and various flex grooves give it a natural flex and near-perfect traction. I went through a workout on a pretty poor YMCA floor tonight and I was still squeaking on my change of direction
So far, so good. Under Armour once had a rep of not building the highest quality shoes, but the Anatomix Spawn held up well for me last year and these show no early signs of wearing out. In a way, it’s a pretty simple shoe as far as construction goes, so there’s not a whole lot to nitpick. The upper is thicker than I would have expected, and the collar is very well padded. Micro G is a durable compound and holds up under heavy use.
I don’t necessarily love the shiny, plastic-y, rubbery finish of the shoe as a whole and I think it knocks the shoe down some in the eyes of a lazy consumer. I wish there were some different premium textures/materials used in one way or another. I know neon is in for the youngbloods, but I also wish you could actually find a simpler colorway in stores. That’s my old man soapbox.
The shoe instantly raises questions from other hoopers and when people have asked me what I thought of the shoe overall, and I describe it like this: it’s what the Kobe IX should have felt like. I think the IX was a very good shoe in its own right, but it fell seriously short in the cushioning department with the gimmicky drop-in midsole. The ClutchFit Drive simply felt more natural to me and the cushioning was near-perfect.
I’d sure like to get my hands on a low-top version and sometimes I want the support of the KD7. But the fit/flexibility, traction and cushioning have made the ClutchFit drive a favorite of mine and contender for shoe of the year.