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URBANA — When the Illini men’s basketball team made it to the Final Four in 2005, Campus Ink — then known as Campus Sportswear — sold over 40,000 shirts commemorating the feat, co-owner Jedd Swisher estimated.

Now, with the team in the Sweet 16, the company is busy making merchandise for Illinois, along with several other teams that are still contenders for March Madness — or, as the company puts it, “Merch Madness.”

And, of course, it doesn’t hurt sales that the Illinois men’s team has been wearing each other’s merch to press events.

“We don’t need a billboard if the guys are wearing it,” said co-owner Steven Farag.

Campus Ink runs the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) Store, which is a merchandise platform for college athletes to sell licensed apparel. According to Farag, the company launched NIL in 2021, with Illinois as a test case. Today, they sell merchandise for 53 universities and support over 10,000 athletes.

At the beginning of March Madness, more than 50 of their teams were in the men and women’s tournaments, Farag said. As of Tuesday morning, they had 11 left on the men’s side and nine on the women’s side.

When asked how the T-shirt shenanigans began among players, Farag explained that before the Illinois men’s team left for Omaha last week, Campus Ink sent them a couple of boxes of shirts to give to friends and family.

However, the Illini decided to keep the shirts for themselves and have since been spotted wearing each other’s merchandise.

Farag said their Dain Dainja shirt in particular went viral, with hundreds of copies sold.

“And definitely, the artwork sells,” said Swisher. “We don’t just put Coleman on a shirt and it sells. Our team of artists are pretty unique. They come up with the newest trends, I think.”

“What they’ll do is they’ll try to kind of get a personality with the athlete and design for them,” Farag said. “Coleman Hawkins said, ‘Turn me into a spaceman and put a ball in my hand and do this,’ and we came up with that. … Yesterday, we dropped a Brad Underwood ‘booty ball’ shirt, because he says the word ‘booty ball’ in his press conferences all the time. So we really try to have fun with it and create something that fans actually want and that they’ll rep.”

Members of the team also stopped into the shop on Monday night and got to experience some of the merch-making magic firsthand, he added.

Lindsay Quick, who works with wholesale orders and developing jersey designs, said that it’s been great to “pop up” and surprise the team with merch as they travel to and from tournament games.

“It’s just been really fun,” said Quick, who was waiting for the players when they flew into Willard Airport on Sunday. “I think they’re a team that deserves to be celebrated. I think they’re special.”

When asked how far they think the boys will go, Farag replied that they plan to pick up 10,000 shirts on Friday morning.

“It’s going to happen, we’ll win that game,” Swisher said.

“I would love to see at least a Final Four,” Quick said. “I think that would be really special to kind of match the 2005 team, and I think they can do it.”

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