That’s A Wrap: Payton Sparks

  • 04/23/2024 8:10 am in

Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our player-by-player recap of the 2023-24 Indiana Hoosiers. Today: Payton Sparks.

Sparks (24 games): 2.1 points, 1.8 rebounds and 51.4 FG% in 7.3 minutes per game.

Previously: Gabe Cupps, Mackenzie Mgbako, Malik Reneau, Kel’el Ware, Kaleb Banks, CJ Gunn

A native of Winchester, Indiana, Payton Sparks was one of the best frontcourt players in the Mid-American conference for two seasons at Ball State.

A 6-foot-9, 240-pound lefty, Sparks was a two-time All-MAC selection for the Cardinals. As a freshman, he earned all-freshman honors and was the league’s rookie of the year.

After two years at Ball State, Sparks decided he wanted to try to fulfill a dream and compete at the highest level of college basketball. Following a visit to Bloomington last March, Sparks announced his transfer to play for Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers.

“I went into the transfer portal because I wanted to play at the highest level of college basketball,” Sparks said last March. “I wanted to go power five. To do that, I chose IU. I feel like they have a great offense and it’s a great fit for me on defense, too. And the people at IU are great in general. I feel like the people at IU really care and really mean what they say. I just felt at home when I was making the decision.”

However, the jump up to the Big Ten didn’t go smoothly for Sparks.

While he often overmatched his post opponents at Ball State, that wasn’t the case at Indiana against a higher level of competition. There were some bright spots – Sparks scored nine points in IU’s come-from-behind win against Louisville at Madison Square Garden – but his overall impact was minimal.

Sparks logged double-figure minutes only five times and scored in double-figures just once.

After shooting 58.8 percent on 2s overall and 57.6 percent on 2s in league play last season, Sparks made just 51.4 percent of his 2s at Indiana. In Big Ten play, he went just 7-for-17 (41.2 percent).

His free throw shooting was also a significant deficiency. As a freshman at Ball State, he made 70.6 percent of his free throws, but that number dropped to 51.7 as a sophomore. For the Hoosiers, he connected at just a 41.7 percent clip (15-for-36).

Two things Sparks always provided were hustle and physicality. Anytime he was in the game, he played with energy and a willingness to be in the mix on every play.

By season’s end, however, Sparks was barely in the IU rotation as Woodson rode star Kel’el Ware for as many minutes as possible and only used the junior when foul issues necessitated it.

Shortly after the end of the season, Sparks entered the transfer portal and announced he was heading back to Ball State for his final season of eligibility.

Bottom line: Sparks realized a dream when he suited up for the Hoosiers for the 2023-24 season. The jump to the high major level proved too large for Sparks, but now he’ll get the opportunity to move back into a prominent role at Ball State for his final season. Indiana is still searching for a backup post player to play behind incoming transfer Oumar Ballo.

Quotable: “IU has always been a dream school growing up. I watched all of the greats come through. And just being able to get a chance to even come to IU has been mind blowing for me. It’s been crazy. IU was just a dream school for me and I couldn’t pass up on that chance.” – Sparks last March after announcing his commitment to play for Indiana.

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