Instead of focusing on the biggest names in sports as the earth begins a new trip around the sun, here’s a quick look at some not-so-huge names that are bound to hit it big in the next 12 months.
Major League Baseball’s next superstar is Wander Franco, a 21-year-old infielder with Tampa Bay Rays. He made his major league debut last June and batted .288 with seven home runs and 39 runs-batted-in in 70 games. When he plays his first full season in 2022 — if the owners-imposed lockout ends, that is — fans will be hard-pressed to avoid hearing his name and seeing regular video highlights.
Unsung PGA player about to make a big splash? How about Australian Min Woo Lee, brother of the LPGA’s Minjee Lee? Min Woo was ranked 272nd in the world last December, and now stands No. 49. His ascension has been swift and if you’re looking for a fantasy league longshot in 2022, Min Woo might be your man.
Canada is becoming a power in world tennis and the biggest splash in 2022 might be made by Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal. Only 21, Auger-Aliassime is already ranked 10th in the world among male tennis pros. In December, he was named Canada’s male pro of the year and the most improved. He’s poised to take on the world, now that the big three (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic) are on the backstretch of their careers.
Irish golfer Leona Maguire became a household name among golf fans when she led Europe to the Solheim Cup over the U.S. last summer. She has vaulted 134 spots in the Rolex World rankings in the past 12 months, currently sitting 43rd. The LPGA Tour’s dominated by Asian and American golfers, but fans should get ready for an Irish star on the rise.
Koe? Gushue? Homan? Jones? Canadian curlers are among the world’s best, but there’s a great crop of youngsters waiting for glory. Watch out for B.C.’s Tyler Tardi and Manitoba’s Mackenzie Zacharias to not only be competitive, but dominant, on the national scene.
Scotty Barnes of the Toronto Raptors might soon become an NBA superstar, but for now, ‘on the rise’ will have to suffice. The Raptors’ first-round draft choice will earn plenty of votes in rookie-of-the-year voting and has an extremely bright future.
The CFL hasn’t had a superstar Canadian quarterback since Russ Jackson in the 1960s (Greg Vavra doesn’t count), but Victoria’s Nathan Rourke is giving B.C. Lions fans hope. As a rookie last year, he started twice and steamrolled Edmonton Elks 43-10 in his second start, passing for 359 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for three TDs. He’s exciting. And he’s Canadian!
- Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Seattle experienced its wettest fall in history, with 19 inches of rain between September and November. It got so bad, the Seahawks practiced swimming for a first down.”
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, on Steelers WR Chase Claypool celebrating his catch as precious seconds ticked away against the Vikings: “It was the stupidest thing done in the NFL, besides saying, ‘Trade me to the Jets.’ ”
- Patti Dawn Swansson, in her excellent three-dot column on Twitter, on the Moulding-Bottcher curling controversy, where skip Bottcher said Moulding was leaving the team for ‘personal reasons’: “Bottcher has since conceded that his wording was wonky, but he stopped short of admitting he lied. Not that it mattered. The fact his pants were on fire was a dead giveaway.”
- Janice Hough of leftcoastsportsbabe.com, just before Urban Meyer was fired as coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars: “Urban Meyer has become such a dysfunctional leader you almost expect him to resign and run for Congress.”
- Bob Molinaro of pilotonline.com (Hampton, Va.: “The great Urban Meyer experiment in Jacksonville is to football what the Hindenburg was to air travel.”
- Tim Hunter of Everett’s KRKO Radio, on interest rates expected to go up: “Except for Jacksonville Jaguar fans.”
- Alex Kaseberg again: “New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton tested positive for Covid-19 in December. This news is almost as bad as when Payton found out Kevin James has been cast to play him in a movie.”
- Steve Simmons of SunMedia, on Jacksonville Jaguars saying coach Urban Meyer was fired ‘for cause’: “I wonder: What was cause — hiring him or firing him?”
- Columnist Norman Chad on Twitter: “If Tom Brady had any mobility, he might be the best quarterback in the NFL. I still have him in my top 10 over the past decade.”
- Bob Molinaro again: “Two years ago, Urban Meyer taught a course at Ohio State on character and leadership. Cue the laugh track.”
Another one from Kaseberg: “The Saints, in their 9-0 shutout of the Buccaneers, sacked Tom Brady four times. Honestly, I have not seen the 44-year-old Brady this upset since the time those punks would not get off his lawn.”
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