Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Friday, December 19, 2003
Updated: December 29, 5:03 AM ET
The best rookies of 2003

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

"With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere."
-- Peter Robert Fleming

We give you ... the best sports rookies of 2003.

Theo Epstein
Theo Epstein is thus far enjoying a sucessful first year as Red Sox GM.
1. Theo Epstein
When the Red Sox offered Theo their GMship late last November, his father had just a few words of advice: "Take it and be daring."

Before the 2003 season, Epstein, 28, did just that, picking up Todd Walker, David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, and Bill James.

And the Red Sox came oh-so-close. So, does Theo rest? Nope. He's out-Yankeeing the Yankees, picking up Curt Schilling at Thanksgiving and Keith Foulke at the winter meetings, and is still working the phones.

2. LeBron James
King James is living up to the hype. 'Nuff said.

3. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo is a double top rookie in 2003. Just a freshman back in the winter and early spring, he led Syracuse to a national title, named NCAA Final Four Most Valuable

Player. He also made everyone's All American teams. Then he moved on. Picked third in the NBA draft by the Nuggets, he leads all rookies (and the Nuggets) in scoring, averaging 18.7 ppg. He's also grabbing 6.6 rebounds and dishing 2.9 assists, third and fifth among all rookies. Most important, he's a huge contributor to a 15-9 squad that's nipping at the Mavs heels for first place in the Midwest Division.

Marvin Lewis is stressing the importance of physical conditioning to Bengals players.
4. Marvin Lewis
After years as one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL, Lewis lived up to two great challenges: 1) he turned the Bengals from a laughingstock into real contenders, and 2) he did it his way, taking charge in a way that no head coach working for Mike Brown ever has.

5. Dontrelle Willis
Just when baseball needs a healthy injection of fun and effectiveness, along comes the D-Train. Willis, who the Marlins called up from AA on May 9, went 9-1 in his first 10 decisions, and embodied the youthful exuberance of the Florida club. He fannies in Pro Player seats long before the fair-weather fans showed up, and pitched well (and happily) in his supporting postseason role.

After Willis got the NL rookie honors, pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal said, "This caps off his whole year. He wins a World Series, goes to the All-Star Game and is now Rookie of the Year. Not bad for a kid who started off the year in Double-A."

6. Brandon Webb
Many thought Webb should have gotten the NL ROY nod. He went 10-9 with a 2.84 ERA (4th in the NL) and 172 Ks in only 180 IP (10th in the NL). Opposing batters hit only .212 against Webb, third in the NL. In other words, he wasn't just one of the top rookies, he was one of the top pitchers in the league.

7. Anquan Boldin
Though he's been toiling away in the obscurity of Phoenix, Boldin has put in a spectacular rookie year. In his first pro game, he caught 10 passes for 217 yards and 2 TDs. Though he hasn't matched that debut performance, he's caught 86 passes (4th in the NFL) for 1,228 yards (3rd in the NFL) and 7 TDs in the first 14 games. He's on track to break Terry Glenn's record for most receptions for a rookie (90) and is a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl.

Evans Rutto
Evans Rutto, left, is congratulated by second place finisher Paul Koech after they both ran incredibly fast marathons.
8. Evans Rutto
We know what you're thinking -- who the heck is he? Rutto, a Kenyan, has been one of the best 10K runners in the world over the past four years, and is now, at 25, one of the best marathoners in the world. In his first race at the distance, at the Chicago Marathon in October, Rutto ran a 2:05:50, making him the fourth-fastest marathoner ever. His run was the fastest first-time marathon of all time, and puts him right up there with greats like Khalid Khannouchi and Haile Gebrselassie.

9. Hideki Matsui
We know all about the Matsui vs. Angel Berroa arguments -- you could make a good case that Berroa, the Royals shortstop who won the NL ROY honors, is a more valuable player, and perhaps he is. We know all about the arguments that Matsui isn't a "true rookie," because he played in the Japanese majors for so long. But we don't have to care about rules for the purposes of this list -- Matsui was an MLB rookie, and, to put it briefly, came through on the biggest stage under the heavy glare of the New York and Japanese media.

10. Laurence Maroney
Maroney, a freshman running back for the 9-3 Minnesota Gophers, ran for 990 yards (6th in the Big 10), and 9 TDs. His average of 6.73 yards per carry was the highest among the top 10 rushers. Maroney got 10 or fewer carries in six games, but still managed to pull out four 100+ performances. including a season-high 179 yards against Illinois.

Also receiving votes:
Ben Curtis
Angel Berroa
Cheryl Ford