Breaking Out In 'o5

Who Will Win? Who Will Soar? Who Will Star?

December 31, 2004

THE NBA

A year before LeBron James backed up the hype that accompanied his rise from high school icon to full-fledged NBA star, Amare Stoudemire made a less publicized, but no less dramatic, leap.

After a checkered high school career spent mostly in Orlando, Fla., Stoudemire went from being the ninth pick in the 2002 NBA draft to the league's Rookie of the Year with the Phoenix Suns.

But as the Suns fell off last season from being a playoff team to just another dysfunctional group of Gen X millionaires, in part because Stoudemire missed 27 games with injuries, the 21-year-old's star dimmed a little.

Now, with the Suns on the verge of having the biggest turnaround of any team in the league, this 6-foot-10, 245-pound center has become one of the game's most explosive players.

The addition of veteran point guard Steve Nash has helped the Suns in general, but none more than Stoudemire, who finished the calendar year ranked in the top five in scoring and field-goal percentage.

Should the Suns build on their fast start and make a long run deep into the playoffs, Stoudemire will undoubtedly play a huge role. Should Phoenix win its first NBA championship, the hype surrounding Stoudemire might rival that of King James.

- Don Markus

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

When the Anaheim Angels lost third baseman Troy Glaus to free agency this month, their disappointment was somewhat muted because they have another slugger positioned to take Glaus' place.

Dallas McPherson, 24, has the same burly build as Glaus, and he put up some burly numbers last year in the minor leagues: 40 home runs, 36 doubles and 14 triples.

McPherson will head to spring training as the preseason favorite for American League Rookie of the Year, and the Angels can only hope he lives up to the hype.

A second-round draft pick out of The Citadel in 2001, McPherson had a steady rise through the minor leagues. Last season, he hit 20 home runs at Double-A and 20 more at Triple-A before jumping to the big leagues in September.

With a shoulder injury limiting Glaus to designated hitter duties and second baseman Adam Kennedy down with a late-season knee injury, the Angels thrust McPherson onto their playoff roster.

He had just one hit and struck out four times in nine at-bats, as the Boston Red Sox swept the Angels in the Division Series. McPherson's high propensity for strikeouts is a concern -- he had 169 in 135 minor league games last year -- but if he makes the adjustments, he could quickly become a star.

- Joe Christensen

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

John Thompson III has the pedigree and Gary Williams has the titles, but George Washington's Karl Hobbs is the hottest college basketball coach around the nation's capital -- and maybe the nation.

Hobbs, 43, is an overnight sensation two decades in the making.

He got the ball to Patrick Ewing when they were high school teammates in Boston and set assist records for Connecticut when the Huskies were bottom feeders in the Big East Conference. Mike Jarvis, his prep coach, got Hobbs his first assistant's job, at Boston University.

Hobbs spent eight seasons as an assistant at Connecticut and helped develop Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton. He can still coach guard play and how to find the open man. The 20th-ranked Colonials, who handled Michigan State and Maryland on successive days at the BB&T Classic, made 48 percent of their three-pointers during an 8-1 start, the only blemish being a loss at Wake Forest.

GW is the favorite in the Atlantic 10 Conference, which sent two teams to the Elite Eight last season. One was Saint Joseph's, where Phil Martelli would gladly coach for life. The other was Xavier, which has become a steppingstone for coaches. The Colonials could find themselves in a similar situation with Hobbs, who began the season sandbagging about the difficulty of recruiting at GW.

- Paul McMullen

THE NFL

The third quarterback taken in the 2002 draft, Patrick Ramsey was an afterthought almost from the beginning. A contract stalemate kept him out of the Washington Redskins' camp until August, and he was signed only after the team tried to trade him. By then, coach Steve Spurrier was reluctant to play Ramsey. Spurrier wanted to win with former Florida quarterbacks, alternating Shane Matthews with Danny Wuerffel until both proved incapable of leading the team.

In his second season, Ramsey was hampered by a lingering foot injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve in December. This year, in the coaching switch from Spurrier to Joe Gibbs, Ramsey took another step back.

Gibbs prefers proven veterans at the position; he demonstrated that in 1987 when starter Jay Schroeder got hurt, yielded the job to veteran Doug Williams and couldn't get it back in the stretch run of a Super Bowl season.

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