In a state steeped in historic duels and family feuds Kentuckians are naturally predisposed for domestic disorder. The modern day affirmation of our civil aversion is of course disguised as a basketball game—the Battle of Bluegrass. It’s a game that has a way of turning sound, rational people into rabid animals; of turning boys into heroes. Or kings.
A hero was made in December 2004, when a kid from Central City with the church league physique and dipper’s grin stepped to the line for three free-throws with the battle still knotted and the time all but out.
A hero was born in March of 1983, the same year the Battle of the Bluegrass officially commenced. You might call it a coincidence and you’d be wrong. You could call it destiny, which would be correct, so let’s call it destiny, ok? Who could have imagined this six-foot nothin’ gunner from the Western Kentucky Coalfield would one day toe the line of immortality in Freedom Hall with the fate of a nation in his hands?
At times Patrick Sparks was simply a capable ball handler, reliable free throw shooter, defensive liability (especially in his Bud Heavy Senior season) with a five inch vertical and a streaky three point stroke. A career 10 point, 4 assist, 1 steal per game kind of guy. Then he’d heat up, dish out a few no look dimes, and carve up a defense with craftsman-like guile and flair and instantly became must-watch TV. You knew Sparksy was feelin’ it when he wouldn’t even follow through on his shots. Just sorta flick that thing up there and start running back down the court. He was Marshall Henderson without the histrionics and rap sheet.
Through the centuries thousands of young men have been selected to wear the Kentucky jersey. The majority put in their sweat and hung their jerseys up when the eligibility ran out, carrying on with their lives but still holding the ultimate Kentucky trump card in their pockets. Few more would actually carve out decorated basketball careers, stitch their names in the lore, maybe even go on to play professionally. Then there are the few that leave as heroes, destined for the life of a Statesman. Only one would call Billy Packer a mother f-er to his face on live TV. Patrick Sparks is all of them.