As one of three double-digit scorers slated to return from last season’s Class 4A state semifinal boys basketball team at Valor Christian, Austin Sparks couldn’t help but be a little torn up at first about transferring to a new school.
The Eagles, after all, would have likely been the preseason favorites to take the crown in 2012-13, with defending champion Lewis-Palmer and runner-up Sierra both losing their top players to the Colorado Buffaloes.
But Sparks — a 6-foot-8, 195-pound forward who recently committed to play in college at the University of South Dakota — didn’t exactly wind up with a bunch of scrubs for his senior year of high school either.
He’s spent his summer fine-tuning his game just like any other year, just with new teammates at Fairview High, where the Knights have won three of the last four Front Range League titles and have been to the Class 5A Final Four twice during that span.
Naturally, there’s been an adjustment period as Sparks acclimates to a new set of friends and teammates and way of doing things, but he said he’s getting settled.
“It’s going to be really good,” Sparks said over the phone recently while in Indianapolis for a tournament with his Colorado Chaos club team. “I really like all the guys over there. The coaches over there are all really good guys and great players.
“I just want to see how far we can make it.”
If Sparks is happy to have found a solid place to land, the Knights are equally thrilled to have him.
The versatile threat with the ability to pass and shoot well, in addition to a soft touch inside, averaged 14.7 points last season, good for third on Valor’s team. He also led the team in rebounds (8.5) and blocks (1.8).
“They don’t drop in your lap very often,” said FHS coach Frank Lee, whose varsity squad went 23-2 and reached the 5A sweet 16 last season. “So we’ll see how that fits in. So far what I’ve seen of him is he’s a hard worker, and he’s real quiet. He seems to come in and do his work. He’s fit in to what we’ve done really well.”
The Fairview program as a whole — varsity, junior varsity, C team and freshmen — went 78-4 last season. So the Knights are confident they can reload despite the loss of several key seniors.
But the timing of Sparks’ arrival is fortuitous nonetheless as FHS returns just one starter. That’s salty point guard Brent Wrapp, who led the Knights with 6.3 assists and 2.5 steals per game last season in addition to averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds.
Wrapp, a Chaos club teammate of Sparks’ who has gotten recruiting looks from UC-Davis, Army and Cornell, admits it will be nice not being the only FHS player returning with starting experience.
“I think we’re going to have a pretty solid 1-2 punch,” Wrapp said. “It’s been big. Any time you can add one of the premier players, it’s good. We’re definitely excited.”
The only question now is when Sparks will get to take the floor for FHS. It will likely be early fall before the Colorado High School Activities Association rules on what portion, if any, of their respective sports seasons transfers like Sparks have to sit out — decisions that hinge on the circumstances surrounding prep athletes’ transfers, whether they are athletically motivated or otherwise.
Sparks, who lives with his family in Westminster, said he made the change because the tough economy simply made the tuition at Valor and the long commute too much.
Sparks originally attended Mountain Range as a freshman before transferring to Valor for two years. When the need to make a move arose this time, he said the academic opportunities at Fairview were what drew him there.
“I think the school’s the most important thing,” Sparks said. “Sure they’re a great basketball team, but I want to prepare for my future, too. I don’t know how far I’ll go in basketball. I want to set myself up for success.”