Drake's October's Very Own brand teams with NCAA on Kentucky apparel collection

On Tuesday, Drake’s clothing line, October’s Very Own, announced it had partnered with a handful of select colleges on a new collection of apparel.

One of those schools was not much of a surprise: Kentucky.

The Wildcats were one of five NCAA athletic programs picked for OVO’s newest collection, along with Alabama, Memphis, Texas and North Carolina.

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Though Kentucky was oddly the only school not to have its gear showcased in a tweet from OVO Tuesday, the items modeled in the OVO announcement for the other universities were basketball shorts, a hat, a hoodie and a letterman’s jacket.

The apparel is available starting Sept. 29.

What is October’s Very Own?

October’s Very Own, often shortened to OVO, is a clothing company started by Drake, the popular Canadian rapper who recently had his 12th No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, tying him with Madonna and The Supremes for the fifth-most all time (at 36 years old, he’s got some time to catch up to The Beatles’ 20 No. 1 singles).

The line, which takes its name from Drake’s birth month, was launched in 2011. Its items feature an owl logo that has become synonymous with the artist (born Aubrey Graham), though there isn’t an official explanation for why that’s the case beyond OVO looking like the face of an owl, with two large eyes and a beak.

“I want people to be a part of our movement,” Drake told Complex in Nov. 2011. “I just want it to be right. And everybody else wants me to make it with the cheaper fabric and put it in Macy’s and ‘Oh, don't worry, we will make 100 million in the first year.’ Naw, f--- you, because that's not what we are about. I'm not ready for OVO to be that. Because OVO is still something I represent.

"I'll go make that money one day off something else. When someone gets my OVO jackets or gets my sweater, I want them to be like, ‘That's my s---, this is mine.’ "

Along with the five U.S. colleges, OVO has existing partnerships with a number of athletic properties, including the NBA, NFL, MLS, the University of Toronto and the Scarborough Shooting Stars, the last of which is a Toronto-based team in the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

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Drake’s ties to Kentucky basketball

OVO including the Wildcats in its new line is merely the latest example of the tight relationship between Drake and Kentucky — specifically its men’s basketball program.

Despite growing up more than 500 miles from Lexington, he has been associated with the Wildcats from virtually the moment he achieved musical stardom in the United States.

The timing was fortuitous. His debut album, “Thank Me Later,” was released in June 2010 and within two weeks, it was the No. 1 album on the Billboard charts. Three months before that, Kentucky coach John Calipari finished his first season at the school; his team went 35-3, made the Elite Eight, and had a record five first-round picks in that year’s NBA draft.

Drake has said he and Calipari were first connected by mutual friends, and the two instantly struck a close bond. Though Drake was raised in Toronto, his father and most of his family are from Memphis, where he spent many summers growing up and where Calipari coached the University of Memphis from 2000 to 2009.

The rapper has made multiple appearances at Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, perhaps most notably in 2014, when he addressed the crowd, took part in warmups with Wildcats players and airballed a 3-pointer. Three years later, he was at the event wearing a blue hoodie reading “Kentucky Dad.” He also has appeared at several of Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament games during Calipari’s tenure.

The link between Drake and the Wildcats occasionally has been touchy. In 2015, the Sporting News reported that Kentucky sent him a cease-and-desist letter after he took photos with recruits while representing the school at Big Blue Madness the previous year. The university self-reported a Level III violation to the NCAA.

During this past summer, on an off day for the Wildcats during their run in the 2023 GLOBL Jam in Toronto, Calipari brought the team to Drake’s $100 million mansion for a pool party and cookout. The players also practiced briefly in the indoor gym, a court Drake dubbed “The Sanctuary” that, fittingly, has an owl logo at midcourt.

The connection goes even deeper than meetups and get-togethers.

In a 2017 podcast interview with Calipari, Drake told him he was “one of the most iconic mentors in my life, period.” Drake said seeing him at Big Blue Madness motivated him to finish his remaining credits to graduate from high school and fulfill the wishes of his mother, a retired teacher. Calipari was among those in attendance at the rapper’s graduation ceremony.

“Coming to Lexington and seeing the basketball program, seeing the way not only your team, not only your staff, but just an entire culture, an entire city looks at you as this figure they can always find solitude in, it really was inspiring to me,” Drake said. “It just reminded me why that's so important. I was just so inspired to come there and see all these people that sort of are funneling through this system. All these kids. It's up to you to give them something — motivation, inspiration, tools, knowledge they can take with them on their journey because a lot of them have different journeys . . .

"When I came to Lexington and I met you, I didn't want to leave. I would have traded my life at that moment to play Kentucky basketball and be under you. It felt like a mentor. It felt like a father figure. It felt like this incredible feeling and at 26 years old, it made me go and reconnect with the teacher that I loved the most.”

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Drake's October's Very Own brand launches Kentucky apparel collection