By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN — As we speak, the hours left in the 2017 sports scene are dwindling down to a precious few. Between the usual amount of upsets, buzzer-beaters, fantastic finishes and out-and-out robberies, there were several special moments from the last 12 months.
K.D. and the Warriors got their groove (and their crown) back, Money Mayweather unretired and made another lucrative trip to the bank, MLB crowned a new champion in Houston and the C.A.P. of Foxboro pulled off another Jedi mind trick on Super Sunday.
We saw Goal Brotha P.K. Subban put the Nashville Predators on his back all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. We saw Serena take a much needed back seat for her new youngin’ while sister Venus was rising — again!
A funny thing happened to the UConn women along the way to another title christening.
By the end of March, they were doing their best Nina Simone impersonation by singing “Mississippi (State) Goddamn” following their OT loss to the Lady Bulldogs at the Final Four.
All in between, we saw and heard the NFL and their team owners continually show their royal pimp cards regarding Colin Kaepernick, their “loyal fans”, and anyone that dared to try and call them out on it.
While we put a final bow on 2017, we’ll try to do a little foreshadowing for 2018. What follows is a group of 10 folks we think you’ll be talking about over the next 12 months in the world of sports.
Most you’ll know and say “why are they on the list?” Some you won’t and you’ll say “who’s that?” But that’s the point. A year from now, we predict all those questions and puzzled looks will be answered.
We list them all alphabetically. Here we go!
Before you start screaming expletives and snide comments about his daddy, let’s just deal with Ol’ No. 2 on a pure basketball level. He like any other rookie coming in the league is gonna have his ups and downs. For these “pundits” to call him a bust when we haven’t even reached the All-Star break yet is just pure unadulterated bullshit. Yes, his jump shot and shooting percentage can be Aunt Esther ugly. But peep these numbers: Bob Cousy 35%, Jason Kidd 38%, John Stockton 47%, and Magic Johnson 53%. Those were the rookie shooting percentages of these legendary point guards. Needless to say, but the “Big Baller” — and his L.A. teammates — are still a work in progress.
If you thought that whole “Black Girl Magic” thing at the Olympics a few years back was just a passing fancy, allow me to introduce the next candidate for breakout athlete of the year. The 17-year-old native of Ghana, by way of D.C., just this month became the first black female to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speedskating team with a pair of victories in the 500 meters. After an impressive showing in the World Junior Championships at Austria in January (bronze medal), Biney used the Olympic Trials as her coming out party. Hopefully, she’ll get treated better by the media than Shani Davis did during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Two years ago, the Georgia native was considered one of baseball’s top prospects. After struggling a bit during his rookie season, 2017 saw the Minnesota outfielder more than live up to the hype and then some. In the tradition of Mays, Flood, and Griffey Jr., Buxton has rapidly become the game’s best all-around center fielder. Skeptical? Check out the numbers: In the second half of the season, the 23-year-old put up a .893 OPS, just behind New York’s Gary Sanchez. For the season, he batted .253 with 16 home runs. He stole 29 stolen bases and was caught just once. He led all outfielders with 24 outs above average and was tabbed as Wilson’s Defender of The Year. All this while leading the Twins to a Wild Card berth.
When the former Hoya center was hired back in April to resurrect the struggling Georgetown program, you knew there would be growing pains. After an 8-0 start, Coach Ewing’s squad have lost three of their last five including overtime tilts to Syracuse and Butler. Off the court, Ewing has signed 6-9 forward Grayson Carter from Dallas, 6-6 forward Josh LeBlanc from Baton Rouge, and 6-2 guard Matthew “Mac” McClung from Virginia. Carter and LeBlanc are regarded as four-star recruits while McClung is considered one of the best to come out of the Commonwealth. While an NCAA berth may still be just out of reach, the immediate future with the new ball coach is definitely worth checking out.
Well, that was a real quick honeymoon in Marlinland!! But let’s be clear, Mr. Re2pect is doing the same thing his predecessors did to Miami coming in and out the door. But for some reason, Jeets is being depicted as the worse thing to hit Florida since Hurricane Irma left the coastland. Now sending the reigning NL MVP to his former cronies in the Bronx isn’t on the list of how to win and influence friends. But to be fair, Mr. Stanton set the narrow field of where he was willing to go. So as the perennial under-dwellers and their dwindling fanbase prepare for another sub .500 campaign, the new Grand Poobah will likely see more losing and undergo more scrutiny than he got in the Apple. Just remember, when you’re sitting in last place EVERYONE can hear you scream.
Looking up at all the teams in the Eastern Conference isn’t the exact formula for making the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the efforts of Kane (34 points), linemate Kyle Okposo (17 points), and All-Star Jack Eichel (team-high 35 points) have been admirable, the Buffalo Sabres are — to be nice — still struggling. And now, the trade rumors have started to get a bit louder in Western New York. And it appears that No. 1 on the hit parade is Mr. Kane. And the No. 1 suitors appear to be the Chicago Blackhawks. Reports have it that Buffalo scouts have been seen at Chicago’s minor league affiliate in Rockford on a regular basis. Could Kane go from the outhouse to a small suite near the penthouse? Stay tuned.
Pulling off the biggest upset of the college football season while leading Howard to its first winning season since 2012 was just part of the plan for this Eddie Robinson Award candidate. Add the fact that London was officially hired just before the National Signing Period, it makes the Bison’s final 7-4 record (6-2 in the MEAC) even more impressive. And don’t think that the rest of the conference hasn’t taken notice. With the full support of Athletics Director Kery Davis, Coach Mike’s second season in D.C. has the making of changing the course of power in the MEAC and beyond.
The athletic pedigree for this former University of Wisconsin standout by way of Hamilton, Ontario just bursts at the seams. The 5-8 forward is the niece of former NFL star Donovan McNabb and cousin to Edmonton Oiler defenseman Darnell Nurse and current UConn hoopster Kia Nurse. One of the best female hockey players in North America, Nurse tallied 76 goals and 61 assists in 150 games for the Badgers from 2013-14 to 2016-17. After playing for her country’s Under-18 title team in the 2013 International Hockey Federation, Nurse will now suit up for Canada’s women’s hockey team that will compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea in February. You go, girl!!
While the NBA media world perpetuates another Betty vs. Veronica moment between LeBron vs. Kyree, one of the other major players involved in the much-publicized deal separating them may have the last word on this simmering rivalry. The two-time All-NBA guard has been itching to get into the Cavs lineup after recovering from his hip injury. And when you consider just how the Celtics were quick to ship him to the Cavs, I think Thomas will have a chip on his shoulder as large as the Cuyahoga River (flames not included) if the teams meet in the Eastern Conference finals. Now THAT’S must-see TV.
When 2017 began, the Clemson standout was leading the Tigers to their second national championship in school history, ending a three-decade drought. Fast forward to April. The Texans tab Watson in the first round with the 12th overall pick of the NFL Draft. Despite having an impressive preseason, Houston would name Tom Savage (who?) the opening day starter. But that wouldn’t last very long as Watson relieved the career journeyman QB in the season opener. What followed was him showing why he was the best QB coming out of the draft. In October alone, Watson threw 16 touchdowns in the month and set the NFL record for most touchdown passes by a rookie in a calendar month. Only an ACL injury prematurely ended what may have been a historic rookie campaign.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.