10 athletes to watch in 2008
One year ago, I looked at 10 athletes to watch in 2007 — young athletes who would burst onto the sports scene in a big way. Among those listed? Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, who became the first sophomore to win a Heisman Trophy. A then-college freshman basketball player named Greg Oden, who went on to become the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Delmon Young, who was in the running for American League rookie of the year. And Jimmy Clausen, a high school quarterback who appears to now be Notre Dame's starting quarterback. So, with that in mind, here's a look at 10 athletes to watch in 2008.
The Olympic Games have a way of turning gymnasts into world icons. Think Mary Lou Retton, Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci. Here's another name we might someday add to the list: Shawn Johnson, the best gymnast in the world, at them moment, having won the 2007 U.S. and world all-around championships. Johnson, who turns 16 later this month, is no daisy. This girl is best known for her power. By year's end, she might best be known for being one of the best gymnasts ever.
This right-handed pitcher is considered one of the top baseball prospects in the majors. He better be, considering he was the key piece the Rays received when they shipped the highly talented Delmon Young to the Minnesota Twins in November. He has appeared in only 26 games in the majors, going 8-13, including 5-7 with the Twins last season. Nevertheless, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Garza, who just turned 24, already is penciled in as the Rays’ No. 3 starter behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields.
Of course, hockey fans in Tampa Bay already know this Lightning goalie from Finland. That's a bad thing, really. If Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis had been able to perform to expectations, Ramo would still be developing in the minors. But desperate to turn its season around, the Lightning turned to this 20-year-old goalie last month. Asking him to save this Lightning season might be asking too much. But he has shown flashes that he can compete at this level. Give him the rest of this season to continue to hone his skills and it would be no surprise to see him as the team’s clear-cut No. 1 goalie when the 2008-09 season begins.
If the 2008 NHL draft were held today, Steven Stamkos most likely would be the name called first. A native of Unionville, Ontario, Stamkos is a 6-foot, 170-pound center for the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League and he's a scoring machine. He had 42 goals with 50 assists in just 63 games last season when he was mostly 16. (He didn't turn 17 until February.) This season, still just 17, he had 30 goals and 21 assists in the first 32 games. The 2009 draft holds supposedly the next "great one'' in John Taveras, a center with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. Scouts say that Taveras would be the hands-down No. 1 pick even if he were eligible to be drafted in 2008. But anyone who gets Stamkos — and that anyone might include the Lightning if its season doesn’t turn around — will get a very good hockey player who is expected to make an impact as early as 2008.
Women's tennis these days continues to be dominated by the same familiar names: Justine Henin, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters. But don't be surprised if Tamira Paszek, a Austrian who just turned 17, climbs up the list from her current No. 42 ranking into tennis' elite. Last year was her first full year on the women's tour and yet she managed to make it to the fourth round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
The 2007 Nationwide Tour player of the year earned his PGA Tour card after winning three times on the Nationwide Tour. He is just the eighth player from the Nationwide Tour to earn an immediate three-victory promotion to the PGA Tour and the first since Jason Gore in 2005. The 23-year-old born in Australia, who happens to be a former U.S. Amateur champ, played in four PGA events in 2007 and finished in the top 20 twice. Also keep an eye on fellow Aussie Jason Day, another golfer making the leap from the Nationwide Tour.
This kid is a beast. He's 6 feet 6. He weighs 235 pounds. He runs a 4.4 in the 40. Now the kicker: he's a quarterback. Pryor, who played at Jeannette High in western Pennsylvania, is considered the top high school recruit in the country. And he could have an immediate impact wherever he decides to go to college. And where might that be? It could be Gainesville. Pryor is still making up his mind, but it's down to Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon and Pitt.
Don't you just love this guy's name? The flame-throwing right-hander was the first pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2004 major-league draft. After tearing up the minors, Bailey was called up in June and was the youngest player in the majors at 21. And what a debut — a victory after five innings of two-run ball. He bounced back and forth between the majors and minors, and ended up starting nine big-league games, going 4-2. In his last start, Bailey retired 15 in a row before giving up a hit on his 80th pitch. That prompted Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin to take him out of the game. Mackanin knew that Bailey could be the future of the franchise. That future begins in 2008. My early pick for NL rookie of the year.
It's an Olympic year, and Allyson Felix could be this year's version of Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps — the American star of these Olympics. Track fans might remember Felix won a silver medal in 200 meters at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Now, at age 21, the Los Angeles native seems to only be getting faster. She dominated the 2007 world championships, winning the 200 by a record margin and picking up gold medals in the 400 and 1,600 relays to become just the second woman to win three golds at the worlds. She is coached by Bobby Kersee — husband and coach of Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She should be the heavy favorite to win the 200 in Beijing and could take home four medals, possibly all gold.
Michael Beasley was considered by many to be the top high school basketball player in the 2007 graduating class. Scouts thought the 6-9 forward could have easily made the jump to the NBA right away if the rules allowed. Born in Washington, Beasley went to six high schools, then surprised many by choosing to go to Kansas State. He mostly went there because of coach Bob Huggins, who has since gone to West Virginia. So rumors are swirling. One says he will stay at K-State after this season. Some think Beasley, who turned 19 on Jan. 9, will join Huggins for a year or two at West Virginia. I'm predicting he chooses to play for pay by joining the NBA this fall. Whatever he does, you're sure to hear his name a lot.