Basketball: Who is NEXT?

Jabari Parker

"'Mature' might not even do him justice," says Dave Telep, ESPN.com's senior national recruiting analyst. "He sees a play ahead, he thinks the game and he has an unbelievable humility level where he doesn't have to score 30 -- he can bring guys along for the ride with him." That's just one of the ways that Jabari Parker, a versatile 6-foot-8 forward, stands out among other prospects his age. At this point, he is known as much for his Mormon faith as for his prodigious talent. That religious dedication has played a factor in his recruitment and his plans. Parker is considering BYU and four other schools: Duke, Michigan State, Florida and Stanford. In 2014 he will likely wrestle with the decision to go on a mission or play in the NBA. Parker has been hurt since the spring, which dropped him to No. 2 in his recruiting class, but he was still adding to his game before the injuries, unveiling a baseline floater among other moves. It's no surprise, then, that Parker has also made his mark as a winner. With three state championships (2010-12) in his first three years at historic Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, Parker is set to finish with a sweep this season. -- Jordan Brenner

DeMarcus Cousins

As much as we hate to admit it, sports fans need bad boys. From Rasheed Wallace to Ron Artest, Ndamukong Suh to James Harrison, these are athletes whose antics are almost as compelling as their accomplishments. Into that niche steps Cousins, a supremely gifted but immature big man for the Sacramento Kings. The 6-foot-11, 270-pound center is in his third NBA season and is nearly four years removed from high school, but already he has hurt his draft stock with outbursts at Kentucky; had conflicts last season with coach Paul Westphal; and most recently received a two-game suspension for accosting Spurs announcer Sean Elliott. In a roundabout way, then, Cousins' antics could help separate him from other top NBA players and push him into the greater sports zeitgeist. At the same time, Cousins' ability to handle his emotions will determine whether he maximizes his massive talent. Cousins averaged a double-double last season and has the potential to dominate on the block in a league starved for low-post talent. Whether he becomes the next Tim Duncan or the next cautionary tale, though, is up to Cousins. The ball, as they say, is in his court. -- Jordan Brenner

Kyrie Irving

It's getting tougher and tougher to hide what should be obvious already: Irving is one of the NBA's top point guards and soon might be the best. Only the cover of an 11-game Duke career and a lockout-obscured rookie season in the postapocalyptic world of LeBron-less Cleveland have kept Irving remotely under the radar this long. But in his second season, Irving is doing things at the offensive end that few can match. He has a veteran's mastery of the pick-and-roll, a deep stroke that's the envy of any point guard this side of Steve Nash and court vision that just needs a legit scorer to feed. In the early going, he is sixth in the NBA in scoring (22.9 ppg), with 5.6 apg -- trends that should continue with the help of a quick-healing broken finger. But Irving isn't just emerging as an on-court star. His turn as "Uncle Drew" in two Pepsi MAX spots displays the charm, wit and sense of humor that should make him a favorite of Madison Avenue. -- Jordan Brenner

Breanna Stewart

"I just think she has the opportunity to be as good as anyone we've ever brought here," UConn coach Geno Auriemma recently told the Hartford Courant. "And that in itself says a lot." Indeed it does, Geno. It seems that every couple of years, a college freshman is anointed the chosen one to revolutionize women's basketball -- and it's no surprise why Stewart is the latest to wear that mantle. The 6-foot-4 freshman forward, who has an absurd 7-1 wingspan, can handle the ball and shoot like a guard. Oh, and she plays above the rim too. She entered the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American Game and threw down two alley-oops -- one-handed and two-handed -- to finish behind the eventual winner, UCLA recruit Shabazz Muhammad. That left everyone salivating even more for her arrival at UConn, where she is charged with leading the program back to its perch atop the college basketball world. So far, so good: Stewart had 21 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals in her debut against Charleston. And there's plenty more where that came from. -- Jordan Brenner

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins was born for this. Literally. His dad is former Florida State star and NBA guard Mitchell Wiggins; his mom is Marita Payne, a Canadian Olympic sprinter. Yup, Canadian. The 6-foot-7 swingman might be the best player the Great White North has ever produced. (Sorry, Steve Nash.) As a testament, when he decided to reclassify as a senior this year, Wiggins immediately vaulted from No. 1 in the Class of 2014 to the top spot in the 2013 crew, an incredible accomplishment given the competition. But Wiggins has the game to back up such expectations. Playing at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, he routinely wows onlookers with feats of athletic majesty. Says ESPN.com's Dave Telep: "You're talking about a 6-7 kid who can be a skywalker. Two or three dribbles and he's at the rim. He shoots it with great confidence. I think he can score like Tracy McGrady did." If that isn't enough, Wiggins must choose a college from among Kentucky, UNC, Kansas, Florida State, Syracuse and Ohio State. And he also carries the banner of being the future of Canadian basketball, the greatest prize in a pipeline that continues to pump more and more talent into U.S. colleges. It's a tall order, but Wiggins has already proved that there are few heights he can't scale. -- Jordan Brenner

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