Sparks has always loved to play basketball

November 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Because his father was a high school basketball coach, one could assume that Patrick Sparks was raised to be a basketball player.

Instead, Sparks was allowed to play any sport he wanted as a youngster.

"I always had a knack for soccer and always played. I loved the game and strategy. Soccer is somewhat big in my hometown, but nothing like basketball," Sparks said. "I played all the sports, but once I got to high school, I mainly focused on basketball."

His father, Steve Sparks, never pressured him to play basketball, even though he was head coach at Muhlenberg North High School in western Kentucky. He did take his young son to the gym with him constantly, but that was normally because Patrick Sparks wanted to go.

"Something just always burned inside of me. I wanted to go the gym for as long as I can remember," Sparks said. "As far as me playing and doing what I wanted, it was totally up to me. He never forced me to play basketball, but I loved basketball and never really focused on any other sport. It just was always going to be basketball.


"I was always around his players. I was everywhere in the gym running around with them. I knew all the players and tried to play them I was only 8 years old and was like a little horsefly running around."

While that "running around" a gym at such an early age certainly helped develop Sparks' skills, he still had to hone one other skill that he hopes will make him a successful point guard for Kentucky this year.

"I didn't shoot very well at all when I started playing," said Sparks, a 40.4 percent shooter from 3-point range in two seasons at Western Kentucky before he transferred to Kentucky last year. "When I first started concentrating on my shooting in middle school, I was a point guard who could take it to the basket and pass. But I couldn't shoot.

"I kept working on my shot because I couldn't shoot well at all. Well, I could shoot, but it was not like I was the best shooter on the team. I kept working on my shot and my percentage eventually went up. At Western, I improved my shot a lot more and now it's pretty good. But I still shoot a lot."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith noted several times last season that Sparks was spending more time shooting on his own than any other player, even though he was ineligible to play last year after transferring from Western.

Last year was tough

Still, last year took a toll on Sparks. He was able to push players in practice because he didn't have to worry about being fresh for games, but mentally he was missing not playing.

"To be honest, last year was pretty much terrible," Sparks said. "My role was to support the team by practicing as hard as I could. It was hard on me. I never got used to not playing. I didn't go to any away games like I thought I might. It hurt not to play, but I don't regret transferring here. I just missed the game of basketball."

"I just tried to take it day by day. I did what I needed to do to get ready for the next day. But I missed playing basketball because that's what I love to do."

That showed during summer pickup games when Sparks, a junior, and senior Chuck Hayes assumed the leadership roles on the team.

"It's my personality to take charge. Plus, you need your point guard to be a leader as well," Sparks said. "Chuck is the leader, but I am here to help lead with him."

Sparks felt he learned last year what Smith expects from his point guard by watching Cliff Hawkins play and listening to the coach during practices and games.

"Coach Smith wants his point guard to control things and be a coach on the floor. I learned a lot seeing it from his side sitting out last year and learned why he tells players certain things," Sparks said. "He is a great coach. He definitely knows what he is talking about, and he's probably the biggest part of this team's success.

"He really knows and understands the point guard position. He knows what needs to be done to make a team the best it can be. He realizes the point guard is the engine of your team. He knows how vital the position is."

So does Sparks..

He averaged 12 a game at Western

He averaged 12 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 29 minutes per game in his two seasons at Western.

"I can find people in the right spots where they need the ball and help control the tempo of the game," he said. "I can make good, smart decisions and keep turnovers down. That's a huge part of the game to coach Smith. He just wants you to make the simple play, not the fancy one. You don't have to do anything crazy to impress him."

Sparks likes what he's seen of freshmen guards Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. Rondo was one of the nation's top high school point guards last year and Bradley is projected as a player who could play either guard position.

Yet Sparks doesn't deny that he's taking the approach that this is his team to lead this season because of his experience.

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