By Jeff Merron
Page 2

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities ...
-- Shunryu Suzuki

10. Jim Mora Jr.

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After five years as defensive coordinator in San Francisco, Mora was hired by the Falcons as head coach in January. What's he done? Installed a new (and better) offense. Turned one of the league's worst defenses into a pretty good one. And taken a team that won only five games in 2003 to a 10-3 record and a division title.

9. Andrew Raycroft
The Bruins' goalie, 24, took over from Felix Potvin last fall and compiled a 29-18-9 record with a 2.05 goals-against average in 57 games. As the season went on, Raycroft got better and better, with a 20-8-3 record in the last 31 games of the season. A fifth-round draft pick six years ago, Raycroft ran away with the NHL Rookie of the Year honors, receiving 93 of 105 first-place votes.

Emeka Okafor
Emeka Okafor has made the fans in Charlotte happy so far.

8. Emeka Okafor
Okafor, a great defender, has shown the NBA he can score, too. The 6'10" forward, who was the No. 2 pick in the draft, is averaging 13.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for the expansion Bobcats. He was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November. Okafor's already proven his toughness, too, with Exhibit A being a stellar performance (52 minutes, 12 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and great D against Elton Brand) in a double-OT loss to the Clippers in L.A. last Monday.

7. Luol Deng
The 6'8" forward from Duke gets double-credit as a 2004 rookie. As a freshman at Duke, he was third-team All-ACC, averaging 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. And he came through in the big games, with 19 points and 12 rebounds against UConn in the Final Four and 14 points and 16 rebounds in the ACC title game.

Deng, who won't turn 20 until April, was picked seventh in the NBA draft by the Suns, who then dealt him to the Bulls. He's come through in Chicago for the abysmal Bulls with.13.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. And he leads a troika of rookies who should give Bulls fans some hope -- Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni have also shown promise in the first quarter of the season.

6. Freddy Adu
Despite the pressure, and limited playing time, Adu, who didn't turn 15 until June, scored five goals and recorded three assists in the 2004 regular season, making him the fourth-leading scorer on the MLS champion D.C. United squad. Among those were one game-winning goal and a game-winning assist. In the playoffs, Adu was on the field for only 87 minutes, but managed a goal and a game-winning assist.

5. Jason Bay
In just 120 games, the Pirates' leftfielder, named the NL Rookie of the Year, slugged 26 homers and drove in 82 runs. His season didn't start until May 7, as he spent all of April recovering from shoulder surgery, but he was named rookie of the month in June and July. Bay led all NL rookies in OPS (.907), slugging, HR, and RBI. He also had 18 win shares, the third-highest total on the Pirates. Bay became both the first Pirate and the first Canadian to win ROY honors.

4. Adrian Peterson
Sooner than even the most prized of recruits, Peterson took the NCAA by storm this season, running for 1,843 yards and 15 touchdowns on 314 carries. In 11 games he rushed for more than 100 yards (he ran for only 58 against Nebraska, while nursing a shoulder injury), and three times he rushed for 220+. In a super-close Heisman race, Peterson got more first-place votes than the winner, Matt Leinart. We can't wait to see what Peterson does in the Orange Bowl -- when he and QB Jason White lead 12-0 Oklahoma against Leinart, RB Reggie Bush and the undefeated Trojans for the national championship.

3. Diana Taurasi
With the former UConn great at the point, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury picked up nine wins in one year, improving to 17-17. Taurasi averaged 17 ppg (fourth in the league), 3.9 assists (10th), and 4.4 rebounds. She was voted Rookie of the Year by an enormous margin, was named to the All-WNBA first team, and tied for third in voting for the league MVP. A couple of other little achievements made 2004 an incredible year for Taurasi: her third straight NCAA title with the Huskies (she was voted the Most Outstanding Player for the second year in a row), and a gold medal in Athens as Team USA's super-sub.

Ben Roethlisberger
Will this guy ever lose a game at QB?

2. Ben Roethlisberger
The WYSIWYG QB. Big Ben has all kinds of numbers going for him: the wins (11), the passing percentage (66.1), the TD-INT ratio (14/8), the QB rating (97.6, third best in the AFC), and the yards per attempt (8.40, second best in the NFL, behind only Peyton Manning). It's fashionable to note that the Steelers aren't where they are because of Roethlisberger -- that he's the beneficiary of a great defense and an offense with veteran running backs and receivers. But the fact is that he's one cool cucumber under pressure, he's doing what most rookie QBs don't do well (playing nearly mistake-free football), and all you have to do is watch to see that he's the real deal.

1. Jeremy Wariner
In his first major international competition, the 20-year-old junior from Baylor pulled one of the biggest upset wins in Olympic sprint history, taking gold in the 400 in 44 flat, the fastest time in the world since 2000. A few days later, he won his second gold as a member of the 4 x 400 gold medal relay team. Wariner finished the year with three of the top six times in the world, and NCAA individual and 4 x 400 championships both indoors and outdoors. Best of all, he's apparently clean -- that's what the tests (and the inside dope) says.

Also receiving votes:

Tampa Bay Bucs WR Michael Clayton (70 catches for 988 yards and 4 TDs)
Orlando Magic PF Dwight Howard (averaging a double-double over first 19 games)
Oakland A's SS Bobby Crosby (22 HR, 64 RBI, .319 OBP, AL Rookie of the Year)
San Diego Padres SS Khalil Greene (15 HR, 65 RBI, .795 OPS)
New Jersey Nets coach Lawrence Frank