by Shane Thomas
More than six months since his last game in a Blazers uniform, Valdosta State’s all-time leading shot-blocker, Josh Sparks, is ready to test himself
Sparks, a native of Savannah, Ga., signed with C.S. U-Mobitelco Cluj-Napoca in Romania’s first division, Liga Nationala on July 16.
“The process has been going well,” Sparks said. “It’s a different world out here. I’m thousands of miles away from anyone I know, but it’s definitely a move that I needed to make. Getting paid to play basketball is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Sparks became a VSU favorite with his energetic, above-the-rim play, which is quickly catching on with Romanian fans.
“Man, the fans here are awesome!” Sparks said. “They are
passionate about their city and their team. They have welcomed me with open arms as though I’ve been here forever.”
“You can really see how much the kids love the game and it feels good to be able to go out and put on a show for the all the fans.”
At 6’9” with a 34.5-inch vertical leap, Sparks has the size and athleticism to be a game-changer for U-Mobitelco, but he insists there is more to his game than meets the eye.
“I still rely on my shot-blocking and athleticism,” Sparks said. “But, I want to be able to show off my ball-handling and passing ability.”
“Over here, if I could become a good small forward, hopefully I could make a lot of money,” Sparks added. “I’ve been taking and hitting my jumper more consistently, which comes from putting work in all summer.”
In his senior season, Sparks helped guide the Blazers to a 19-10 record and an appearance in the Gulf south Conference championship game, averaging a career-best 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks.
Sparks admits getting acclimated to the European game has been a learning experience.
“The game here is a little slower,” Sparks said. “There is better spacing on offense. The defensive rotations are a little different. Also, the rules for traveling are completely different, which is something I’ve had to
For most players going overseas, living in a new country can be a bit overwhelming. But, according to sparks, the transition is getting easier by the day.
“At first i kind of kept to myself,” Sparks said. “I wasn’t sure how well everyone spoke English. But, it turns out everyone actually speaks and understands English pretty well so things have been going very good.”
Very good, indeed as Sparks has been a difference-maker off the bench for U-Mobitelco as the team finished 8-2 in the preseason and captured the City Cup.
“Overall, we felt it was a good preseason,” Sparks said. “We’re excited to start our season up here soon and see how we can do in the Romanian Championship!”
In his first season as a pro, Sparks wants to continue the success he experienced with the Blazers with his focus solely on the team.
“My goal this year is to try and put up good numbers in whatever minutes I get,” Sparks added. “I want to do whatever I can to help Cluj advance as far as we can in the Romanian Championship.”