Vaught's Views: Sparks shows he can play

October 27, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Every time he plays, Patrick Sparks tries to approach it like it might be his last game.

Saturday night it was - at least for this year.

Sparks tied teammate Gerald Fitch for game scoring honors with 23 points in Saturday's Blue-White Game that gave University of Kentucky fans their first real look at Tubby Smith's 2003-2004 team. While there's no doubt Sparks' skills could be used by Smith's team this year, Kentucky fans will have to be content to think about what he might add to the team in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006.

After playing two years at Western Kentucky, Sparks transferred to Kentucky this season. Like any other transfer, he'll have to sit out this season before playing his final two years.

"I told everybody he was no slouch," said Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch. "I remembered him from playing against him two years ago. He'll give all of us fits in practice."


He should. Sparks has that feisty swagger that makes him go full speed every time he's on a basketball court.

Back down from Cliff Hawkins, UK's starting point guard? No way. Back off Fitch, UK's top returning scorer? It won't happen. Give sophomore reserve point guard Brandon Stockton an easy day? It won't happen.

In the Blue-White Game, he was 5-for-9 from 3-point range, including 4-for-6 in the first half. He finished the game 9-for-14 from the field. He also had five steals, two assists, two rebounds and two turnovers in 22 minutes of solid play.

"I don't know about making a statement or not with my play. Every time I step on the floor, I try to treat it like my last game," Sparks said. "I wanted to give it my all. I was just fortunate to knock down some shots."

Wrong! He's a shooter, much like former UK point guard Travis Ford. However, he's a better all-around player than Ford. He's as active on defense as he is at the 3-point line. He can make a nifty pass as easily as a 3-pointer, but he quickly impressed his new teammates with his consistent accuracy from long range after he arrived at Kentucky.

"He is a very competitive kid," Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs said. "He's not working on individual workouts with the mindset that he's not going to play this year. He's not approaching this like a wasted year."

If Kentucky fans had not seen him play at Western, or at Muhlenberg North during his superb high school career, they might have been surprised by just how well he performed Saturday. Sparks also wanted to leave those fans with a lasting impression of his play since he won't be back on public display until UK's 2004 Big Blue Madness.

"It was my first appearance, my first impression for the UK coaches, teammates and fans. I really had to come out and show what I could do," Sparks said.

He did plenty and should in the future, too. He'll have this season to learn a new system just as Ford and another former UK standout, Kyle Macy, did during the year after they transferred to Kentucky. He'll be able to absorb all facets of Smith's system without having to think about the system while playing in a game.

"I wish I could play this year, but I just have to be patient about it," Sparks said.

Just like Kentucky fans who got to watch his play Saturday will have to be patient until next season before they get to see him again.

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