Ball State transfer Payton Sparks gives the Indiana Hoosiers size and potential to replace Trayce Jackson-Davis.
After two productive years at Ball State, Payton Sparks decided to enter the transfer portal. He won’t be leaving the state of Indiana, signing up to play for Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers.
Originally from Winchester, Indiana, Sparks should be a fan favorite right away.
Sparks will also likely be given the keys to the starting center job. Trayce Jackson-Davis could technically come back for a fifth season, but already gave a senior night speech.
After dominating the MAC for two seasons, Sparks proved he has the tools to be a starting center in the Big Ten. Despite few improvements from his freshman to sophomore season, Sparks averaged 13.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game across the two years. His field goal percentage went up, but his shot attempts actually went down from 8.4 per game in 2021-22 to 8.1 per game in 2022-23.
Even so, Sparks commanded the paint, as an old school big in modern-day basketball.
What are Payton Sparks’ strengths?
Look no further than the restricted area. When Payton Sparks has the basketball within a 5-10 foot radius of the hoop, he’s either going to spin his way out of a double-team for two points, or finish through contact.
It should be no surprise that the 6-9, 240-pound Sparks caused matchups problems in the MAC. Even in the Big Ten, where big men seem to run the conference, Sparks plays even bigger than his listing. His blend of actual size and additional strength makes it difficult to defend him in the paint.
While TJD was in another stratosphere as a passing big, it should be noted that Sparks improved to average 1.9 assists per game last season. While it might not match the 4.0 assists per game mark set by Jackson-Davis, Sparks makes good decisions with the ball.
How does Payton Sparks fit with the Indiana Hoosiers?
With Jackson-Davis likely off to the NBA and Jalen Hood-Schifino entering his name in the NBA Draft on Friday, Indiana will need to replace its two biggest stars. Miller Kopp and Race Thompson have also exhausted their college eligibility, which leaves Mike Woodson without his four top scorers. This doesn’t account for Xavier Johnson, however, if granted a medical hardship waiver, he could return for a sixth season. An injury cut his season short to just 11 games.
This means that Indiana will need role players to step up and call on transfers or star freshmen to impact the team right away. Sparks fits that mold as an experienced big man, looking to fill the shoes of one of Indiana’s best players of the 21st century.
While Sparks will likely be compared heavily to TJD, he isn’t exactly the same type of player. Whereas Jackson-Davis often worked his way from the mid-range into the paint, Sparks usually fights for position right around the rim. He will back defenders down until they have no choice but to foul or try and block him at the rim.
Of course, Sparks has room to grow. His two seasons at Ball State showed plenty of strengths, but Mike Woodson and the Indiana Hoosiers’ coaching staff could pry even more potential out of him. The center position will just probably look a bit different from TJD’s approach to the game.
Former Indiana Hoosiers’ player comparison: Thomas Bryant
That’s what Indiana is getting in Payton Sparks. Bryant wasn’t the athletic freak that Trayce Jackson-Davis was. But he was a physical specimen on the inside and had a knack for fighting off defenders for buckets. That’s what Payton Sparks does best.
Overall Fit Grade & Final Thoughts
My only concern here is why Sparks didn’t see many improvements, and in some ways regressed from his freshman to sophomore season. I don’t foresee that being a problem at a program like Indiana, but it is worth noting.
With that being said, in the Big Ten, having a capable center is a must. Sparks fits the mold and being the hometown kid, he probably doesn’t want this opportunity to slide.
As long as Indiana doesn’t try and turn Sparks into Jackson-Davis, he should thrive. Helping him reach his potential is important, but only within his style of play. TJD is a once-in-a-generation player, but Payton Sparks can live up to expectations in his own way.