MEN’S BASKETBALL: Sparks asks for release from scholarship

Michael Casagrande

Patrick Sparks’ two-year stay on the Hill has yielded two record-breaking seasons and countless memories for Hilltopper basketball fans.

That is apparently all they will get.

It was announced Tuesday by new men’s basketball head coach Darrin Horn, that the sophomore point guard will be released from his scholarship.

According to University General Council Deborah Wilkins, the release is an oral agreement, not a written contract. Schools wishing to speak to Sparks must obtain permission from Western.

The release did not come without restrictions. Sparks cannot sign with a Sun Belt Conference School, or any non-conference school that appears on Western’s schedule in the next two years.

That stipulation would seemingly eliminate the University of Georgia, the new home of former Western coach Dennis Felton.

Steve Sparks, Patrick’s father and high school coach said that he received the official release from the university yesterday afternoon. The elder Sparks told the Herald they plan to appeal the provision restricting Sparks from attending any Sun Belt schools and teams Western has a contract to play in the next two years. The family has not yet begun looking for a new school as of yesterday according to Steve Sparks.

The loss of Sparks is not how Horn wanted to conclude his first week as Hilltopper head coach.

“Patrick Sparks contributed to the success of Western Kentucky basketball the last two years,” Horn said. “He has informed me that he wants to explore other options. It is obvious that this is a decision that Patrick has not rushed into, but has considered over a long period of time.”

“I wish Patrick and his family all the best in their future.”

Sparks led the Hilltoppers in scoring last season, averaging 13.3 points per game and set a school record with 84 three-point field goals en route to Western’s third-straight Sun Belt Conference championship.

He was named Sun Belt Player of the Week twice, to go along with being tabbed as Most Outstanding Player in the conference tournament.

Senior center Nigel Dixon said he was not disappointed by Spark’s reason to leave, but will support him in the future.

“He did what he felt was best for him,” Dixon said. “I support Patrick 100 percent, he’s a friend of mine, and he had to do what was best for him.”

Freshman guard Kevin Massiah said he heard rumors about Sparks’ departure, but never thought they would be true.

“I was kind of shocked,” Massiah said. “I kinda had hints from talking to other students. I was just shocked and I didn’t believe it until I heard about it yesterday.”

Sparks was a fan favorite in Diddle Arena during his brief stay at Western.

Coming from nearby Muhlenberg North High School, Sparks wasn’t recruited by Kentucky or Louisville following his prep career and arrived at Western as a local hero.

Fans from Muhlenberg County were so excited to see Sparks play near to home, a group of contributors leased one of the 16 luxury boxes in the newly renovated Diddle Arena prior to last season.

According to Tom Keith, Hilltopper Athletic Foundation assistant director, nobody from the group has contacted Western concerning the future of the lease.

The five-year lease was signed September 14, 2001 and is effective from the 2002-2003 season through 2006-2007. The total cost of a five-year lease is $144,500.

Denny Kirtley, a contributor from Sparks’ hometown of Central City, said he had not discussed breaking the lease for the luxury box, but was saddened to hear the news.

“Certainly we were disappointed,” Kirtley said. “We have been following Patrick over the years. We are disappointed we won’t be able to watch Patrick play close to home, but we wish him luck.”

One of the Sparks memories that Topper fans won’t soon forget came in the 2002 Sun Belt Conference semifinals. Sparks, then a freshman, connected on a three-pointer from the corner as the buzzer sounded, giving Western a one-point win over New Mexico State.

Freshman guard Anthony Winchester was Sparks’ roommate, and is the leading candidate to take the starting role in the Topper back court.

Sparks informed his roommate that he was transferring Monday night. Winchester said he was disappointed because he became good friends with the departing Sparks. The freshman admitted he thought about transferring himself, be decided Western was “the best place for me.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]