Kangaroo Hops? Not quite, but down under could be on the way up. CounterKicks helps launch a new performance basketball brand, Hops Sportswear, to the US market. With the company’s “Medial Wing” technology and an expanded product line launching later this year, we start with an in-depth look at Hops’ debut offering, the Ol Skool. Continue reading for our detailed performance review of the Hops Ol Skool…
For anyone who trolls those “other” sites, you may have seen a couple of topics about 2 years ago on a new company from Australia, started by one of its members, called Hops. Initial buzz was strong, if for nothing else than to see a fellow member make it. However, it has taken a while for anyone stateside to get a chance to actually see these in person. Well, that time is here, and I am happy to say, they seem to be on a strong path. With a few twists and tweaks, these guys could make a few of us “HOP” on the bandwagon and check them out. Alright, enough of the bad puns, let’s get to it:
The first good thing about these that hit me was the font on the box. Finally, a box that looked different than all of the black/white and orange/brown in my closet. I love the script used for the Ol Skool on the box, and using the silhouette of the sole really adds to the anticipation to see what these are all about. I was really hoping for the white/black/red colorway, so I didn’t look on the box to see what I got, just opened the lid and hoped… and that is what I got.
[A shot of the little extras that were included: a book explaining the Medial Wing and a nice metal dog-tag style Hops keychain. Nice touch.]
Upon first view, I thought “skateboard shoe”. The midsole drew my eyes, and not because of the “Medial Wing” technology, but because of the closeness in appearance to the Nike Huarache 2K5. The forefoot has the appearance of the Nike Free found in the Huarache, although the cuts are not completely through the lateral midsole. This was disappointing, as I felt the forefoot could have really used some relief from the initial stiffness, but more on that later. The next thing that interested me was the use of a dual-density midsole in the arch, much like stability running shoes do, which, when thinking about the concept of the Medial Wing, makes sense. The ankle cut was very noticeable, with the higher medial and the lateral side being cut just below the ankle bone. Nice execution to allow for freedom of movement. And lastly, what was this? Is that REAL LEATHER on the upper? Good job on the materials. But let’s put all of these components together and see what we have.
When I put them on for the first time, I immediately thought I messed up. I requested a 10.5, that being my size on Kobe’s, Jordan’s, and most adidas. My toe was almost bumping the end. After initially debating on whether to go ahead or get an 11 sent, I decided to try them out anyway. The sockliner was a very high quality, with perfed Poron-like inserts under the forefoot and heel. Not as stiff as the adiprene+ adidas inserts or the Wade 2.0’s, they provided a very nice step-in comfort when coupled with the Poron-topped footbed. That’s right, the footbed, from heel to toe, is topped with Poron. I know, it is not a “high-end” technology of Lunar or Cushlon, but the thought of putting it completely across the shoe shows that this shoe was designed for play.
[Underside of the insole with the soft Poron inserts. They showed very little compression over the course of the test]
[The Poron/HEVA overlay in the midsole]
My initial reaction to the length of the shoe was put to ease somewhat by the overall fit. I was worried about the dreaded toe bump, causing black nail or turf toe, if the shoe was too short. However, once laced up, any movement of my foot within the shoe stopped. The lacing system is fairly straight-forward, except for the two ghilley laces at the midfoot/ankle. These brought the shoe around my foot and really snugged up the fit, so much that I actually had to loosen the shoe after the first game. Anyone that has read my previous reviews knows I like my shoes as tight as possible to cut down on movement, so this was surprising to me. The asymmetrical ankle cut did exactly what it was supposed to do, providing a level of mobility found in a low-top shoe while also bracing the ankle on the medial side like a mid. This really reminded me of the T-Mac 6, although that may have been the colorway speaking.
My fears about the feel of the shoe were confirmed as I stepped on the court for the first time. I wore the shoe around the house for a couple of days, just to see what the Medial Wing was all about, but I felt nothing but a clunky, slap-like feeling from the shoe. It was very reminiscent of a late-70’s retro, flat-bottomed, herringbone traction shoe, which means not one you want to play in. However, after a 2 hour shooting session and a couple of games of 25 (or 21, whatever it is in your area), I had changed my opinion greatly. The shoe has stability in loads, almost too much, or so I thought, until I stepped on a foot on a rebound and felt the shoe hold me upright. Not just keep my foot from rolling severely, but almost completely upright. I went to these from a week of wearing a pair of Nike Ultraflights, and I immediately noticed the difference. Granted, the Ultraflight was not known as a stable shoe (although I remember a review by the King of these who touted how stable it was), but it was almost night and day on the difference. I would have liked a happy middle ground, but given the choice, being a bigger guy, I will take stability. Finally, the time came for a full-court run. I can safely say the clunkiness factor almost completely disappeared as the shoe seemed to break in to my foot and find its form. That is the great thing about using real leather: after about two wears, it forms to your foot. The forefoot was still stiff, but the CMEVA midsole began to loosen up and flex, allowing for a smooth ride and transition in the open court. Subsequent wearings were more of the same, as the shoe’s stiffness increasingly disappeared and became easier to wear.
[Note the lack of flex, even with forefoot grooves in the outsole]
The Medial Wing is touted on the Hops Sportswear website as providing support and traction under the plantar arc, and while I initially thought this was a good, if not great, idea, I was skeptical. As explained on the website, the idea comes from research showing that most planting and cutting happen using the inside of the foot, which, when you think about it, is kind of obvious. What is not so obvious is why no one ever tried this before. As I mentioned, walking around this technology was completely wasted, as I felt nothing, even while trying to “activate” it. But during one of the previously mentioned 25 games, as I was making a cut, I felt my foot slip, then grip and control were mine again. The change was so drastic that I actually stopped in the middle of the game and thought about what had happened. Kind of nerdy, but oh, well. This occurred a few more times during the testing: dribbling around the three point line, make a move, cross-over, and feel the shoe “push” with my foot. I don’t know if it made me any quicker (take more than a shoe) but it was cool to feel.
I have worn these shoes for 8-10 testings, numbering in the 16-22 hour range of actual hard playing, and the materials and build are still holding great form, minus a missed stitching area where the tongue meets the toe. However, even this part is still in the same condition as upon the first wearing, with no additional stitches being pulled or additional tearing.
With all of the positives, you know I had to do this: improvements. One of the first things I felt needed to change was the tongue material, or at least the top where the ribs are. It is made from what feels like PU or rubber, and the way the shoe laces and bunches the material it either sticks out through the laces and looks bulky or drops in and points into the top ankle area of your foot, leading to discomfort. I have been told by the Hops designers that this problem will be taken care of on the next line of production, going to the mesh of the lower tongue or at least a thinner material.
I was initially very disappointed with the traction. I play at the local Division 1 college rec center or at the 24 Hour Fitness in my town, so it is all fairly well-kept wood courts with minimal dust. After the first ten minutes I was sliding all over the place, which was really a problem. I saw the old-school, wide herringbone and thought “These will be like playing in hardwood cleats.” I was right; they grabbed every dirt particle seemingly in the gym, and might have brought some in from outside. The rubber was VERY stiff, so stiff that I switched to a different shoe to keep from slipping. After the first three wears, the rubber compressed a bit and began softening up, and all was right in the world. I still had to wipe them down about twice a game, and my hands were NASTY because of it, but even semi-dirty they began gripping the court. Not sure how much of this can be attributed to the Wing, or just overall, but it definitely became a good thing. I have since been assured by the Hops team that the new U.S. production model hitting later this year is changing to a stickier compound for the outsole needing no break-in or wear-down time.
Lastly, the cushioning. While initially very impressed with the set-up, I knew regular CMEVA was not going to last for me, and while the Poron did help, I began to feel my legs tiring after about an hour and a half each wear. There is no noticeable deterioration in either the midsole or insole, but there is no feedback or response in the shoe’s cushioning either. The last night I wore them for around two hours of playing and working out, and by the time I got home my ankles, knees, and lower back were stiff. Keep in mind, I am big for my size (weights do that to you), but I play in Kobe IV’s I bought a year and a half ago and don’t have this problem. I would highly suggest adding a little more Poron to the midsole and cutting down on the PU base, leading to better impact protection and a more flexible, friendly ride.
[Very little compression after two solid weeks of wear]
One last thing: these shoes definitely drew some reactions, either just the subtle glance at the mall or the actual ballplayers asking what I was wearing. I don’t know if it was the ankle cut, the split toe, or the colors (white/red/black always remind me of Jordans, no matter the shoe), but I had a handful of people ask me what I was wearing and if they were available here.
To sum up, although this shoe was not really made for me, I had a lot of fun playing in it. I could feel the wing in motion, and although the cushioning was not dense or responsive enough for me, I can recommend these shoes for lightweight guards or small forwards who are active on the perimeter. With the ankle cut and low-to-the-ground forefoot, along with the medial wing, motion and stability are good, but not quite great (almost). The retail on the Ol Skool being $74.99 for the mid cut and $69.99 on the low cut model for the U.S. release leads to these being a great value. For the price and the materials used, these are very much worth the money, just know they are hard to find (and keep in mind the sizing). Multiple colors are available as of now, so if this particular review color is not your style, check Hops out and match some up. Hop to it!!!
-Review by Bryan Hinkle