He showed up in Dallas last July, took Michael Irvin's No. 88 and promptly proclaimed he wasn't in town to be a third receiver. Sure, there was a little sniping behind Bryant's back, but then came a sick, one-handed snare in camp, a solid start (30 catches, 488 yards, 4 TDs through 12 games) and high praise from Emmitt Smith: "Best hands on the team." The rook's got a good arm, too, which he used to toss his helmet after a fumble earned him bench time. And he's got an ear that shuts tight at the word "patience." Maybe that's why Dallas -- and fantasy geeks -- love him so. Against Carolina in Week 6, facing a fourth-and-14 with 56 seconds left, Bryant hollered for the ball and then grabbed the game-winning TD. "The Cowboys always wanted to follow Michael Irvin into war," he says. "That's how they'll think of me." Big. Mouthy. Money. Just like Mike. --Seth Wickersham
Play well, meat for dinner. Play poorly, veggies from the family farm. That simple motivational strategy, employed by Choi's parents when he was growing up in Kwang-Ju, South Korea, worked wonders. By 1998, when the Cubs discovered Choi, then 18, playing first base for the Korean national team, he was 6'4", 235. ("I like pork," he says.) Chicago liked his quick, lefthanded power stroke enough to let longtime Wrigleyville fave Mark Grace relocate to Arizona. In September, Choi (now 6'5") became the first Korean position player to reach the majors -- and launched a 432-foot homer for his first big-league hit. Besides the HR pop (26 at Triple-A Iowa), he has a good glove and unusually good discipline at the plate (.406 OBP at Iowa). He slugged a Bondsian .714 in the Arizona Fall League. So what motivates him now? A chance to be the meat of the order for the next decade. --Ed McGregor
In women's hoops, there are three juniors who can do it all: Alana Beard of Duke, Diana Taurasi of UConn and Candace Parker of ... Naperville Central High. The 6'3" wing became the first sophomore since Tamika Catchings to take home Illinois Ms. Basketball honors (22.3 ppg, 15 rpg, 3.8 apg). Oh, and she can slam (two last season) with either hand. "How many girls can play guard and dunk?" says recruiting expert Mike Flynn, who calls Parker the best prep since Cheryl Miller. Not even LeBron has Candace's bloodlines: Dad Larry played at Iowa and oldest bro Anthony balled with the Sixers. But nobody has a clue where Parker is going to college -- though Taurasi and Beard are on her IM buddy list. The three played spades at a Nike camp last summer. When Candace won, Alana and Diana challenged her to hoops. She just laughed. In good time, ladies. In good time. --Eric Adelson
If his killer forearm doesn't scare you, his favorite blood-red tennis shirt should. In Srichaphan's native Thailand, red signifies power and victory (just ask Tiger). And blood? That's what the graceful 23-year-old with the beatific smile is smelling as he stalks the Top 10. He nailed Andre Agassi at Wimbledon, Lleyton Hewitt in Tokyo, Marat Safin in Tashkent and Juan Carlos Ferrero in Paris. By season's end, his rank had jumped from 126 to 16. No wonder he's a national treasure: Even King Bhumibol Adulyadej admits to never missing his matches (they're televised live). Srichaphan overwhelms his opponents with his 130 mph serve -- and shocks them with his humility. He bows to all four corners of the court at the end of every match, then kneels and touches his forehead to the ground, a Buddhist showing reverence for the earth. He is one with his world. Maybe No.1 some day. --Lindsay Berra
"He's like something Oliver Stone would've created for a football movie." That's how one blown-away recruiter described Jacobs after the oversized RB led Louisiana's Class 4A in rushing with 3,023 yards and 39 touchdowns in 14 games back in 2000. So where's this dude been hiding? After languishing in special ed classes at Assumption High in Napoleonville, Jacobs got a lift when Auburn signed him and directed him to Coffeyville (Kan.) CC. This fall, the 6'4", 260-pound tailback ran a fleet 4.42 on timing day, then led the nation's jucos with 1,640 yards. LSU, Nebraska and Washington all came calling, but Jacobs has decided to stick with Auburn -- even with Heisman contender Cadillac Williams coming back. "Competition like that will only make both of us better," Brandon says. A Caddy and a Rudy with wheels? Sounds like a coach's (and a director's) dream. --Bruce Feldman
All over soccer-crazed New Jersey, teenage girls spent Halloween dressed up as Mia Hamm. But O'Reilly was too busy playing next to No. 9. The 17-year-old senior forward from East Brunswick High was helping her country qualify for the World Cup -- and living up to her billing as the future of U.S. soccer. "At her age, she's as technically gifted as any player we've ever had," says U.S. coach April Heinrichs, who could make Heather the youngest American to play in a World Cup. A dynamic finisher with excellent field vision (four goals, seven assists in five games at the U-19 World Championship in August), O'Reilly possesses the maturity to compete with the women whose posters cover her bedroom walls. But what really separates her from the pack is hair-on-fire speed. "That kid is lightning," says Julie Foudy. "She can run by defenses like no one I've ever seen." Well, as much as anyone can see the future. --Liam McHugh
For a supposed pitching phenom, it was hardly a phenomenal debut: more hits (146) than innings pitched (133 1/3), a bloated 4.32 ERA. But 18 years and 284 wins later, it's safe to say this about Roger Clemens: He turned out okay. Which is why roto-nerds should take a closer look at the rookie year of another Texas native. Forget Beckett's 6–7 record, 4.10 ERA and three DL visits. Thanks to his mid-90s heater, wicked curve and steely disposition, the 22-year-old Marlin struck out 113 in 107 2/3 innings, a better ratio than Clemens had in 1984 -- or Nolan Ryan had in 1968. And after chillin' this fall at his ranch near San Antonio and his 12,000-square-foot house in Spring (those Texans do like to live large), Beckett's happy to report his pesky blisters have healed. "It's going to be something to watch him pitch next year," says his manager, Jeff Torborg. Call it Rocket science. --Scott Burton
Since arriving from Slovakia three years ago, the Minnesota Wild forward has taken up a new hobby: horseback riding. "It's totally relaxing," Gaborik says. "When you're riding, you have to believe in the horse." Watching the slippery Gaborik on ice, you have to believe he's the horse that can carry a third-year franchise toward its ultimate goal: the Stanley Cup. "He's a combination of Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny," says teammate Cliff Ronning. "He's got speed, power, a great shot. And he really wants to get better." Playing wing for a defensive-minded team with little big-name talent, Gaborik scored 30 goals and added 37 assists in his second season. Now the club's first-ever draft pick (third overall in 2000) has the Wild riding high. Considering he turns just 21 on Valentine's Day, you'd be foolish to bet against him. --E.J. Hradek
As a high school freshman, Barnes looked more like the Next Craig Stadler than the Next Tiger Woods. A flabby, 225-pound football tackle, he was already rolling over grown men at the Stockton (Calif.) Golf & Country Club when he discovered something called exercise: "I was down to 165 within a year, and feeling a lot better about myself. At that point, the cardio work and the weightlifting became habits." Now Barnes is a buff 6'3", 200-pound U. of Arizona senior who wears his sleeves rolled high to expose his big guns. And if you haven't seen how hard he swings a driver or how deftly he handles a wedge, you'll get your chance in April. That's when the reigning U.S. Amateur king cashes in the greatest tack-on prize in sports: a first-round tee-time at the Masters with the defending champ. That would be the current Tiger Woods. --Jeff Bradley
He is a man of few words. In fact, it's tough to get this shy late-bloomer to say much of anything. Then again, the 33-year-old Biffle doesn't need words to tear ahead of the pack. Since his breakout performance in the 1996 Winter Heat Series, he's ripped through NASCAR's two lower divisions like a monkey through a cupcake. In five seasons with the Truck and Busch Series, the Vancouver, Wash., native has 25 wins, 19 poles, two Rookie of the Year titles and a championship in each. Next year, it's on to the big circuit with his entire Roush Racing team intact. Biffle's future looks so bright, even he has something to say about it: "It took me three years to win the truck title and two years to win the Busch. So I figure I'll win the Winston Cup championship in one season and then retire." Now that would be making a statement. --Al Covington
Pat Teter nearly fainted. Her 5-year-old daughter was waving at her from atop a 60-foot pine. Then it registered -- little Hannah was carving her name next to those of her older brothers. A decade later, she's still disregarding gravity. At 15, she's the youngest female snowboarder to make the national A-team. Give some credit to her board-riding sibs: Amen, 25; Abram, 23; and Elijah, 18. They had Hannah building backyard kickers in Belmont, Vt., before she hit second grade. Now she's copying their ramped-up style on the slopes, too. On grabs, she bones out so hard her board bends. In September, the defending world junior halfpipe champ finished fourth in her first World Cup. Next month, she'll join Abe and Elijah at the Winter X Games in Aspen, armed with nines and McTwists. "It's a family thing," Hannah says. Like we didn't already know that.
--Anne Marie Cruz
This article appears in the December 23 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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