VAUGHT: Sparks battling for spot on Team USA

Villanova coach Jay Wright says if Patrick Sparks does not make the USA World University Games team it won't be because he's done anything wrong during the tryout process.

"We just happen to have a lot of similar players. We have a lot of heady guys that are smart and really shoot the 3-pointer well," Wright said Saturday after practice in Colorado Springs, Colo. "It's going to be our toughest decision because they are all so similar in a positive way.

"But Patrick Sparks is a really intelligent player. We have a lot of older guys but I think in terms of basketball intelligence, Patrick is one of the best. I also like the great toughness he plays with. I really appreciate that. Usually if you get a great shooter like that, he's more finesse oriented. But even if he gets trapped inside on a bigger guy, he plays tough. It's just a matter of how many guys in his spot that we keep."

Fifteen players are vying for 12 spots on the team that leaves Aug. 6 for Turkey.

Sparks, a 37.6 percent shooter from 3-point range last year, says it has been fun playing against some of the nation's top players. However, he's hoping to show he is more than just a shooter to earn a roster spot.

"I am just trying to play my game. A lot of people may label me as a 3-point shooter, but I think I can do all the things the coaches ask no matter what team I am on. Our roles on this team are not defined yet, but whatever they ask me to do, I will do to the best of my ability," Sparks said. "I've been playing some point guard, some two guard. I obviously like playing the point, but I also like playing two guard. It's really kind of like during our season at Kentucky when we had two point guards playing. I see myself as the same kind of combo guard on this team."

Wright said Sparks had a "great shooting day" at Friday's practice. "He is showing us what we already knew. He is a great shooter. The 3-point line is a big part of the game. Our international opponents really use the 3. If we match their 3-pointers with 2-point shots, we will be in trouble. We are looking for shooters on this team and Patrick has great range."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith is on the selection committee that will help pick the team. He arrived in time to watch Saturday's first practice. "He is really doing a good job, but then Patrick always does that. He is a good player and he's going to do the right things for you. I didn't get to see a lot, but he did a good job from what I saw. I'm really looking forward to watching him more and see how he plays. But he can do a lot of things to help a team like this win."

Sparks said the opportunity to represent his country in international play made it an easy decision to bypass a few weeks of vacation before school resumes in hopes of making this team.

"I am more than willing to give up a month to play on this team if I can make it," Sparks said. "This is amazing to me that I am even out here trying out. It's something I've worked hard for in my career and I've worked hard on my game this summer. I'm just fortunate I got asked and now I hope I can make the most of it."

Wright says he expects the final roster to be set by midweek since the team leaves Saturday for Turkey.

"I don't think there is anything in Patrick's game that will keep him from making this team. It's just a matter that he's at a position where we have some tough choices to make, but he's really a good player and one I really like," Wright said.

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