Sparks spends time shooting while waiting to suit up

February 12, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - It's not hard to figure out where Patrick Sparks might be if he has any free time.

"I've always been around a gym and when I have any free time, that's where I'll be," said Sparks. "Shooting is something that is part of my daily routine. I try to shoot as much as I can every day. It's just where I feel comfortable. I love being in a gym.

"A great day for me is when I am in the gym shooting. I enjoy working on my game, to be honest, so it is a lot of fun. If you have a basketball in your hands, it has to be a great day."

Sparks transferred to Kentucky this year after starting at point guard for Western Kentucky the previous two years. He can practice with the Wildcats, but not play in games. While not playing has been difficult at times, Sparks understands this year could eventually make him an even better player.


"I think it is going to help me in the long run," Sparks said. "It is something that I think I probably needed more than I realized. It's the right thing for me and I'm glad I'm doing it.

"I am learning the offense and getting better every day by competing against the guys here. I am getting a lot more physical and stronger. A year of maturity is a big thing, and I've got to watch the older players here and learn from them.

"A lot of times players don't really listen to coaches, either. This year I get to see the game from a coaching side that I have not seen before. It has opened my basketball knowledge a lot."

Sparks, the son of Muhlenberg North High School coach Steve Sparks, hopes his court awareness will be a big asset next season along with his outside shooting.

"I was already decent at running a team and controlling a game, but I think now I will be able to excel in that and it will help our team a lot," Sparks said.

Going against Hawkins daily has helped

Going against senior point guard Cliff Hawkins daily in practice has also helped Sparks. Hawkins' quickness and defensive pressure have forced Sparks to improve his all-around skills.

"Playing against a guy like that who puts the kind of ball pressure on you that he does daily is something," Sparks said. "Cliff is a special player. He comes in every day at practice and gives it all he has. He never wants to come out. He leads by example and his defense is probably the best in the country."

Sparks has earned Hawkins' respect.

"We go at it hard every day in practice and he's a very competitive guy, just like me," Hawkins said. "I really wish I could play with him right now. He's got a great future ahead of him at Kentucky in being the guy that runs the team next year."

Sparks, like many Kentucky high school players, grew up wanting to play for the Wildcats. However, it was Western, not UK, that recruited him then. When coach Dennis Felton left after Sparks' sophomore season to take the head coaching job at Georgia, Sparks made his move to Kentucky. He agreed to be a walk-on player this year and then go on scholarship for his final two years of eligibility.

He says playing for Felton helped make his transition to Tubby Smith's system easier.

"There are a lot of similarities between him and coach Smith," Sparks said. "They are both very competitive, they have a lot of discipline in their approach to the game. It has not been as hard a transition here because coach Felton and coach Smith are a lot alike in things they believe and their philosophies of the game."

That's why Sparks knows Georgia won't be overconfident Saturday when it hosts No. 8 Kentucky even though the Bulldogs won at Rupp Arena earlier this year.

"Once you've played for coach Felton, you know he will never let a team take anything for granted," Sparks said. "They had a great win here, but I guarantee you he's not thinking about that any more."

Sparks will only be able to watch Saturday's game and think about what playing against Felton will be like next. But Sparks' teammates already know he'll help.

"He might not look like a basketball player when you first see him, but he's a student of the game and he knows how to play," Kentucky junior Chuck Hayes said. "He knows where to be on defense. He knows how to run a team. And he can shoot. He just kills people in practice with his shooting. He makes everything."

Which makes for a lot of good days for Sparks.

"I don't have to worry about resting for games, so I can shoot all the time and when you get to do that there's no way you can complain about anything," Sparks said.

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