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10 young athletes to watch in 2013

Dee Milliner

We won't know where the Bucs will pick in the 2013 draft until after today's games. But wherever they do, they likely will go after a cornerback. It won't be a great draft for cornerbacks, but the Bucs' need means they might have to reach. In any case, many analysts consider Milliner the only cornerback worth taking in the first round. He plays a pro-style defense for Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide and could join former college teammate Mark Barron in the Bucs secondary.

Yaroslava Shvedova

This 25-year-old Kazakhstani tennis star made a bit of history in 2012, becoming only the second player in the Open era of Wimbledon (since 1968) to record a "golden set.'' That means she won an entire set without losing a point. Shvedova, who is ranked No. 29 in the world, has won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and has a good enough game on all surfaces to make a deep run in any of the majors. Watch out for her at Wimbledon.

Harris English

Just 23 and out of the University of Georgia, English burst onto the golf scene during his rookie year in 2012 by posting an incredible 60 and 63 to qualify for the British Open. (He finished tied for 54th.) Just as impressive, English had three top-10 finishes and ended the year ranked 80th in the world. We're not predicting he's about to win a major, but don't be surprised if English wins a PGA event in 2013.

Nail Yakupov

This is the seventh year we've done this list, and only twice before has an athlete been named twice: golfer Michelle Wie (2007, 2009) and Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix (2008, 2012). Yakupov, 19, is the third and the first to be listed two years in a row. We listed the right wing a year ago in anticipation he would be the first pick in the NHL draft and become an immediate star. Well, he was, indeed, drafted first, by the Oilers, but has yet to play because of the lockout. After playing in juniors the past two seasons for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, Yakupov is playing this season in Russia for the KHL's Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, for whom he has 10 goals and eight assists in 22 games. We're hoping the NHL returns in 2013 and you will see this dynamic scorer.

Seth Jones

This is a really cool story. His dad is Popeye Jones, the former NBA player and current assistant coach with the Nets. When he played for the Nuggets, Popeye approached then-Avalanche great Joe Sakic for advice because Popeye's son was interested in hockey. Now Seth, 18, is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman playing juniors in the Western Hockey League and the early favorite to be the top pick in the 2013 draft.

Max Browne

Browne, the Gatorade national player of the year, is coming off one of the greatest seasons ever for a high school quarterback. The Sammamish (Wash.) star completed 73 percent of his passes and threw for 4,526 yards, 49 touchdowns and five interceptions in leading his school to a state championship. He also is the state's career leader in passing yards with 12,947. He has orally committed to Southern Cal and plans to enroll in January to be ready by the fall. He will have to beat out redshirt freshman Max Wittek, but Browne is expected to eventually continue USC's tradition of great quarterbacks.

Gerrit Cole

Let's hope the Rays' Wil Myers will be the American League rookie of the year. So who is the NL favorite? We like Cole, a power right-handed pitcher for the Pirates who was the first overall pick of the 2011 draft. He jumped all the way from Class A to Triple A last season, striking out more than a batter per inning and giving up less than a hit per inning. It isn't clear if he will start the season in Pittsburgh, but many already believe he is the best pitcher in the entire organization and will be its ace the moment he is called up.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is on the right track for success in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. He was the Nationwide Series rookie of the year in 2010 then followed that up with series championships in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, he will race full time for Roush Fenway, replacing Matt Kenseth. Here's some extra intrigue: Stenhouse and Danica Patrick are entering their first full season on the Sprint Cup schedule and will battle each other for rookie of the year. And there was a rumor last month that the two might be dating.

Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected]

As we close out another year, we begin to look ahead to a new one. So welcome to our seventh annual list of athletes to watch during the upcoming year.

We're not talking about well-established stars — the LeBrons, Peytons and Tigers. We're talking about younger athletes looking to break out in 2013.

In years past, we've put you on the lookout for Tim Tebow (2007), Steven Stamkos (2008), Delmon Young (2007) and Stephen Strasburg (2010).

We believe there are a few future superstars on this list. Here are our athletes to watch in 2013.

Wil Myers

Most in Tampa Bay are already familiar with Myers, the Rays' key acquisition in the trade that shipped pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals. But few of us have seen the 22-year-old 2012 minor-league player of the year actually play. There will be spring training. But after that, who knows when the outfielder will join the Rays? It might be opening day. It might be May 1. It might be later. But at some point in 2013, Myers will join the Rays — hopefully for the next decade or so.

Nerlens Noel

As many as seven current college freshmen could go among the first 10 picks of the 2013 NBA draft. But the best of the bunch could be this 6-foot-10 center from Kentucky. For starters, he has one of the coolest hi-top fade haircuts in the country. He can play, too. He is shooting 54.8 percent from the floor and averaging 10.5 points and nine rebounds. And he's a terrific defender, making him one of the top NBA prospects — assuming he comes out after his freshman season.

10 young athletes to watch in 2013 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 10:17pm]
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