Sunday, January 02, 2000

Sports: 21 To Watch

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        • Ken Griffey Jr.

        Sport: Center fielder, Seattle Mariners

        Age: 30

        Why: A Cincinnati native, Junior could make a run at Hank Aaron's all-time home run record of 755 in the next decade. He already has 398, and he just turned 30.

        Griffey already has made a significant impact in baseball history, but shooting for Aaron's record — once thought to be untouchable — would make a significant impact on American culture. Even better, he could do it in a Reds uniform if they sign or trade for him, still a strong possibility.

        • Sean Casey

        Sport: First baseman, Cincinnati Reds

        Age: 25

        Why: The budding superstar is on his way to being the most popular Red since Pete Rose.

        An All-Star on the field, where he hit .332 with 25 home runs and 99 RBI in 1999 — his first full season in the big leagues — Casey is on track to be one of baseball's top hitters well into the next decade. He's also a dynamic presence off the field. Emotional, warm and big-hearted, he's a fan favorite who wants to make Cincinnati his home.

        • Adam Dunn

        Sport: Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds

        Age: 20

        Why: The Reds' second-round draft pick in 1998 has spent only one full season in the minor leagues but is already one of the brightest prospects in the organization.

        A left-handed hitting outfielder with power — perfect for the Reds' new lefty-friendly park — Dunn can be “one of the great young players in our game,” says Reds Assistant General Manager Doc Rodgers. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Texan could be in the majors in 2-to-3 years.

        • DerMarr Johnson

        Sport: Guard, University of Cincinnati basketball

        Age: 19

        Why: This talented UC freshman has the most star potential of any Bearcat since the great Oscar Robertson 40 years ago.

        A rarity as a 6-foot-9 shooting guard, Johnson has a soft shooting touch and all the tools to be a star both at UC — however long he stays — and in the NBA. He needs to bulk up, but his combination of talents are so coveted by NBA scouts, there was talk he would skip his senior year of high school and go straight to the pros.

        • Nick Vehr

        President: Cincinnati 2012

        Age: 40

        Why: The key figure in Cincinnati's bid for the 2012 Olympics, Vehr has made getting the Games his mission.

        Nothing would so define Cincinnati's place in the world in the 21st Century as the Olympics, and no one would be more influential in that than Vehr, a former Notre Dame football player and Cincinnati city council member. His most pressing work comes in the next year: Getting Cincinnati's bid ready to submit to the U.S. Olympic Committee in December.

        • Michael and Michelle Munoz

        Sports: Offensive lineman, Moeller High, and basketball forward, Mason High

        Ages: 18, 16

        Why: The son and daughter of Anthony Munoz, the Bengals' Hall of Fame offensive lineman, are Cincinnati's highest-rated prospects in their respective sports. Both figure to make a big impact in college — and beyond.

        Michael, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound offensive tackle, was Ohio's 1999 big-school high school player of the year, a candidate for national player of the year and has committed to play college ball at national power Tennessee. He combines his dad's size with technique that opposing coaches use to teach their linemen how to block, and shows potential for greatness.

        Michelle, a 6-foot-1 junior for the No.2-ranked high school girls basketball team in the nation, is so good she committed to play at Tennessee, also a women's basketball powerhouse, before her junior season.

        • Akili Smith

        Sport: Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals

        Age: 24

        Why: Mike Brown has laid the franchise in the rookie quarterback's hands. Whether he's a star or a bust, Smith's performance will have a bigger impact on the Bengals' future than any player.

        With a strong arm, mobile legs and forceful personality, he is potentially one of the NFL's top quarterbacks in the future. But we won't know until he gets a chance to show it; he was sidelined much of this year, first by his holdout from training camp and then by a toe injury.

        • Katie Blackburn

        Heir-apparent owner: Cincinnati Bengals

        Age: 34

        Why: If Mike Brown has laid the Bengals' on-field future in Smith's hands, he has laid everything else in those of his daughter.

        There's nothing Brown wants more than to keep the team in family control, and he's grooming Blackburn, currently the team's executive vice president, to take over as he took over for his father. The team's future success could rest on whether she tries to run the football operations herself or hires a general manager, as many have suggested Brown do.

        • Alex Volpenhein

        Sport: Golfer

        Age: 11

        Why: A young phenom golfer from Northern Kentucky, Volpenhein is ranked No.1 in his age group nationally and won the 1999 Future Masters, a national invitational.

        He began golfing at age 31/2, shot a 36 on a par-27 9-hole course at age 4 and has won a major event every year since he was 6. His future will be determined, his coach says, by his determination and ability to handle pressure — and not getting burned out. “He can play when the going gets tough,” says tutor John Leach. “Once he gets to crunch time, he's a lot better.”

        Jennie Thompson, Alyssa Beckerman and Morgan White

        Sport: Gymnasts

        Ages: 18, 18 and 16

        Why: Three of the stars of the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy, they could be half of the U.S. Olympic squad in 2000.

        Thompson (Colerain) was the 1999 American Cup champion and has been named by Bela Karolyi as a potential American medalist. Beckerman (Wyoming) and White (Fairfield) also rank among the top seven nationally, and White is seen as one of America's hottest young prospects.

        The U.S. contingent hasn't been champion-caliber at pre-Olympics competition, but the Americans still enter the 2000 Games as the defending gold medalists — and that means these three will be bright in the world's spotlight if they make the squad.

        • Tami Ransom

        Sport: Swimmer, Ursuline Academy

        Age: 16

        Why: A high school junior, she's on her way to becoming one of America's finest swimmers.

        Ransom burst onto the national scene in 1999 by placing fourth in the women's 200 individual medley at the senior national championships. She has already qualified for the 2000 Olympic trials, and even if she doesn't make the Sydney Games, she has staying power down the line.

        • Dod Wales and Nate Dusing

        Sport: Swimmers, U.S. national team

        Ages: 23 and 21

        Why: Cincinnati's top 2000 Olympic hopefuls will likely battle not only for the two spots on the Olympic 100-meter butterfly team, but may end up battling for the gold in the climax of a great swimming rivalry.

        At 21, Northern Kentucky's Dusing (Covington Catholic, University of Texas) may have the bigger long-term impact with a good shot at two Olympics. Cincinnati's Wales, 23 (St. Xavier, Stanford), is the reigning college national champ. This could be his best shot at Olympic gold.

        “It's a small world when you can grow up a couple miles from someone and compete for national spots 10 years later,” Wales said.

        • Shankar Ramaswamy

        Sport: Tennis

        Age: 10

        Why: Ramaswamy is already gaining national attention for beating older kids in the 12-year-old class, where he began 1999 ranked No.38 despite the age disparity. He's likely to move up when the new rankings come out early this year.

        Coaches say he has the chance to be big-time if he stays with it. He already has a natural nickname — The Swamy. He's also a talented pianist.

        Heather Mitts and Danielle Borgman

        Sport: Soccer (defenders)

        Ages: 21 and 19

        Why: These two Cincinnati natives have the potential to be worldwide soccer stars.

        Mitts (St. Ursula) played for the U.S. under-21 team that won the Nordic Cup in 1999 and was an All-American at Florida, which won the NCAA championship in 1998. She'll graduate from Florida this spring and has a shot at making this summer's Olympic team.

        Borgman (McAuley) played on the American under-17 squad, is a two-time All-American for 1999 national champ North Carolina and is considered one of the fastest women's players in the country. Both are potential stars for the U.S. national team — the world's best — in the next decade.

        • Ricardo Williams

        Sport: Boxer

        Age: 18

        Why: He's the nation's top-ranked boxer in his weight class (139 pounds) and has a good shot at Olympic gold this summer and a solid professional career.

        Williams, who has been boxing since age 8, has the potential to join the greats of Cincinnati boxing lore that includes Ezzard Charles, Aaron Pryor and Tim Austin, all champions.

        • Trey Griffey

        Sport: Baseball

        Age: 5

        Why: He's Junior's son, and those bloodlines qualify him geographically and athletically.

        Our prediction: He breaks Dad's all-time home run record in 2039. In a Reds uniform.


People to watch in the 21st Century
Metro: 21 To Watch
- Sports: 21 To Watch
Arts and Entertainment: 21 To Watch
Business: 21 To Watch
Food: 21 To Watch
Nation and World: 21 To Watch