NEXT 2000 -- Vince Carter

Updated: December 7, 2006, 12:20 PM ET

Vince Carter arrives in three-second bursts, or about as long as it takes for two dribbles and a dunk. This is what you know before you know anything else. This is the introduction.

Two dribbles and a dunk doesn't tell you much. If they're the right three seconds, they can tell you that gravity is somebody else's problem. Those three seconds can help explain why Carter is seen on late-night television as often as a Chuck Norris infomercial. In the span of those three seconds, he can make you open your mouth involuntarily and shake your head and look around for someone to did-you-see-that with, even when you know you're alone. Watch ing him take someone off the dribble and dunk, as he did most famously to Indiana's Chris Mullin last season, is like watching a large animal devour a smaller one. But beyond those surface facts, beyond the immediate awe, you're on your own to take those three seconds and expand them into something deeper and more substantial. Two dribbles and a dunk definitely doesn't tell you about Carter's senior year in high school, when Charles Brinkerhoff, his coach at Mainland High in Daytona Beach, implored him to shoot the ball more, to take it to the basket, to make every game his own. Carter's friends say he could have averaged 40, easy. So put us on your back and carry us, Brinkerhoff told him, and we'll win the state championship.

No, Carter said, for two reasons.

First, he already had his scholarship. His path was set; he was going to North Carolina. He had been filling Florida gymnasiums and college coaches' imaginations since he was 14. What would a few more points per game mean to him? He had his, and he possessed the quiet assuredness to know there would be more for him in the future -- much more. But if he devoted his senior season to passing more and showcasing his teammates' abilities, maybe they would catch someone's eye and get the chance to play college ball.

Second, Carter wanted to win the champion ship as much as his coach did, and he was perhaps the only one who believed he would increase his team's chances by increasing his assist total.

So he listened to all those voices espousing selfishness and chose to ignore them. He still filled gyms, imaginations and highlight tapes, but his scoring average went down nearly four points a game from his junior to his senior year.

In the end, two of Carter's teammates went on to play college basketball.

And Mainland won the state championship.

Even today, when asked how much of a stretch it would be for him to average 30 a game for the Raptors, Carter winces and says, "I don't know about that. To get to 30 … that's a lot of shots." Two dribbles and a dunk? Think of it this way: Every movie needs a trailer.

Vince Carter is The Magazine's Next Athlete 2000 for reasons that go beyond his ability to provide the viewing public with three of the most captivating seconds in sports. He is Next because the only complaint you'll hear from his coach and teammates is that he doesn't shoot enough. He is Next because he listens to his mother and accepts criticism and defers to the wishes of his older teammates. On the court, two dribbles and a dunk is nothing more than an appetizer. Carter is the rare player whose presence fills unoccupied spots on the floor, in much the same way as his body seems to turn elastic in midair. He is simultaneously graceful and emphatic, and his exponentially improved perimeter game has made hope and prayer the most plausible defensive strategy.

He is also Next because he absorbs the incessant comparisons to Michael Jordan while seeing them for what they are: flattering, burdensome and utterly unattainable. He has a combination of ability, humility and civility that once seemed to emanate from a different basketball age but is now -- if everyone would just look past the Sprewellian veneer --making a comeback through people such as Carter and Tim Duncan. Carter, in fact, carries himself on the court like someone who knows --with decimal- point precisionexactly how good he is and yet does not view life as an endless opportunity to shove that knowledge down the world's throat.

He is Next because he believes he can win championships and achieve fame -- even special, first-name-only fame -- while playing in Toronto. He's a 22-year-old from Florida who went to college in North Carolina, and yet he has not asked out of Canada. He has not complained about the cold or the accents or the currency. Instead, he says, "This is a perfect situation for me. We're on the way up." In fact, when he first got to Toronto after the '98 draft, he called his friend Joe Giddens back in Daytona and said, "Joe, this is awesome -- you need to come up here and check this place out."

As if to reaffirm our wavering belief in karmic justice, Carter's contentment with Toronto is being repaid in both love and victories. Originally, fans and media in Toronto questioned the draft-day trade that made Carter a Raptor and sent North Carolina teammate Antawn Jamison to Golden State. Carter had been the second-best player on his college team, the argument went, and he'd never seemed to play up to his talent level. But now Carter's image is everywhere in Torontostorefronts, buildings, clothingand the nickname "Air Canada" is gaining wider renown. He is picking up admirers like lint. His name has been uttered in the same sentence as the letters NBA MVP. Premature? Probably, but after the Raptors beat the Lakers in Los Angeles in November, Shaquille O'Neal got all rap-like and called Carter "half a man, half amazing." Duncan and Spurs teammate David Robinson had to be thinking the same after Carter dunked over each of them on his way to 39 points soon after in a Raptors win over the defending champions."

We've been lucky -- really lucky," says Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald. "Vince has been a gem from the start. You have to remember, he came to us during a time when we were way down. Nobody wanted anything to do with us, and we needed someone like him. I guess you could say everybody does."

Carter's signature moment came in that win over the Lakers, when he scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. The team followed up with a victory over the Jazz, after which, on that same road trip, Carter did something even more amazing than the amaz ing Shaq: Against Golden State, with his team leading by 33 points midway through the third quarter, Carter took a charge. The game had long since achieved epic irrelevance when Warrior forward Tony Farmer -- 6-9 and 245 pounds, 30 more than Cartertook a wild and angry drive through the lane. Carter stood mannequin-still and took Farmer's knees full-throttle in the chest. Toronto coach Butch Carter watched with what had to be a mixture of pride and outright dread.

Butch says Vince's best attributes -- not that any noncoach would bother to notice -- are his effort and intensity on defense. He led NBA small forwards in blocked shots last year, and his coach says he should do it every year. Prais ing Vince's defense seems a little like saying Bill Gates has a nice library, but you get the idea.

When Carter is on the floor, he wears a look that says his mind is working a play or two ahead. Even when he does something spectacular, and even when he lets his feelings show with a low-Richter celebratory shoulder shrug, his face does not appear to be partaking in either the revelry or the exertion. He is calm on the court and calm off it, sitting back in the Raptors' locker room with his wire-rimmed glasses giving him a stately look, telling a reporter he honestly doesn't know how he does some of the stuff he does. Often he leaves the ground and makes it up in midair. (Ah, the joys of hang-time.) By the sound of it, he can be rendered as slack-jawed as anybody else by those three-second film clips. The surprise is often his, as well as ours.

He is accustomed to the attention his talent brings, and expert at deflecting it. He is charmingly noncommittal and noncontroversial, liberally sprinkling his conversation with compliments for his teammates. "Just taking the shots that were there," he said after the Laker torching.

Twenty-two years old or not, Vince Carter has lived most of his life in the glare of the hard lights. In high school, the sellouts started the beginning of his sophomore season. By his junior year, scalpers were working the parking lots two hours before game time. He always felt the tug of the crowd and tried to live up to the expectations. "He was always a ham on the court," says long-time friend Cori Brown. "Then after the game, he would change back to being a quiet, humble guy. He was raised to have morals. He was raised not to act better than anyone else."

Friends from Florida still call when they have trouble at home or at school. "Whenever I need advice, I call Vince," Giddens says. "He's the best listener I know."

Vince's mother is a schoolteacher and his stepfather (whom he calls and considers his father) was the band director at Mainland. Vince was a drum major and played sax, and he was good enough to be offered a music scholarship to Bethune-Cookman. When he decided to attend North Carolina, his mother got him to sign a contract decreeing that, if he left school early for the NBA, he would still finish his college education. The day he announced his intention to leave after his junior year, Michelle Robinson-Carter pulled the contract from a drawer and showed it to her son. And in the summer of 2000, assuming he completes his one remaining class, Vince will earn his bachelor's degree from North Carolina, in African-American Studies.

Basketball is where sport and culture mix, where kids from crumbling downtown blacktop and kids with full courts in their backyards come up with the same ideas on behavior and fashion and celebration. Basketball is the only sport in which shoes are advertised with release dates, as if they were movies or criminals.

With Carter, you can see it coming: His talents -- especially his felonious leaping ability -- are putting him at the forefront of the current generation of players. Throughout the league, he has gone from being a sidelight to being a major attraction. The NBAever image-conscious has informed him that it is interested in promoting him nationally. Watching Vince now is to bear witness to the incipient moments of über-stardom. This, his second season in the NBA, is the cultural equivalent of the little nod he gives Muggsy Bogues or Dee Brown before they deliver a lob pass that will inspire his 41-inch vertical-leaping legs into the air for a dunk that will have opposing fans high-fiving in the aisles.

Carter's on-court maturity is typified by that game in L.A. He had the crowd reacting as it always does when it sees something that defies logic, but the highlights served a greater end: The Raptors got the win. He took the game over, lifting his team a solid level higher in an NBA universe that beats to the pulse of instant respect. Carter is gradually, sometimes grudg ingly, becoming confident enough to grab a game by its collar and smack it silly for 48 minutes.

At this point, where expectations become demands, it gets difficult for Carter. There is still a little voice in his head (Dean Smith's, perhaps?) that cautions against shooting too much, and cautions against showboating, and cautions against anything that might detract from the sanctity of the team concept.

The problem is obvious. Carter's is the kind of talent that demands a certain arrogance. Selfish ness is the average player who takes 15 shots in a loss to pad his stats. But when a player like Carter takes 20 shots in a close win, the operative term is leadership. He is just beginning to understand the distinction; he generally starts games slowly and gradually works his way in from the margins. Butch Carter rolls his eyes in exaggerated frustrationas if he were Method-acting the role of exasperated fatherwhen discussing his attempts to get Vince to claim ownership of a game, Iverson-like, from the opening tip.

"I'm scared my mentality is going to change," Vince says. "I'm afraid I'm going to start thinking, 'Okay, it's the third quarter, how many points I got?' I still can't get used to looking at the stats and seeing that I took 23 shots." What he's saying without actually saying it is this: It's there when I need it, so why force the issue?

The Raptors have mixed Carter and distant cousin-by-marriage Tracy McGrady, 20, with hard-boiled veterans Charles Oakley, Antonio Davis, Kevin Willis, Brown and Dell Curry. The roster radiates perspective, and its constituents are not bashful about voicing their opinions. Davis chastised Carter and McGrady for a perceived excess of showmanship during the preseason. "It needed to be said then," Davis says, "but it hasn't been needed since." Butch Carter, wearing an "Old School" sweatshirt during a Novem ber practice, said Vince and Tracy sometimes allow their emotions, their friendship and their talent to take them in unproductive directions. Do they get carried away sometimes? he is asked. He nods his head and rolls his eyes, the father again.

But what the coach also knows is who does the carry ing for the Raptors: Vince averaged 18.3 points a game last year and won Rookie of the Year as Toronto made an unexpected, ultimately unsuccessful run at the playoffs. He got better and more confident as the shortened season wore on, his scoring average increasing each month. This year he is averaging more than 22 points a game and, at 6.4 per game, is one of the best rebounding small forwards in the league.

"Once he realizes how good he is, then look out," says Davis. "He's learning, but he still doesn't have a good idea of what's out there for him. One thing about this room: We'll let him know what we think. One thing about Vince: He'll take it the right way."

The first time Vince Carter knew he was entering a big, big world came in October of his freshman year at UNC. He and his high school friend Cori Brown, who served as the Tar Heels' team manager and Carter's roommate, were watching television. They flipped to MTV and stopped at an episode of Dance Party. There were people on some far-off beach wriggling and gyrating for the benefit of the roving cameras, and two of them were wearing No. 15 Carolina blue Tar Heels jerseys. His jersey! He was a freshman in college, 18 years old, and before he had even played a game, he was sitting in his dorm room watching as a part of himself was delivered and aired to the greater world.

They were stunned. They knew the university was selling the jersey, and they figured they knew the reason: Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace had left for the NBA, and the enormous expectations placed on Carter made him the most likelyand most marketablepersonification of the Tar Heel program. Even so, seeing the jerseys on television was totally different from seeing one on a classmate in the cafeteria. Brown kept saying, "There's your jersey on the TV," and Carter sat there silent, a frozen grin spread across his face.

There don't appear to be many rules to Dance Party, one of the world's foremost showcases of exhibitionism and narcissism, but it's clear that cool is currency. You don't show up wearing a Matt Bullard jersey or a Clippers warmup jacket. For a grown person -- even a grown person with a desire to appear on Dance Party -- to spend money on a Vince Carter jersey at that specific moment in time was equivalent to a broker buying a stock on spec. In this case, the future earnings were cultural rather than financial.

That random channel surf said a lot to Carter, though it would take him a while to understand it all: the weight of expectations and the reality of responsibility; the power of talent as it commingles with hope and commerce; and the reality that, should he fulfill the promise of that jersey, no decision from then on would be entirely his.

The Raptors' media relations office says it fields at least 10 interview requests a day for Carter. It is his mother's wish, conveyed through his personal publicist, that Vince never be interviewed alone. You can call it overprotective, or you can call it the sound parenting of a young son who is being borne rapidly along the superhighway of fame and opportunity. A year ago, the Canadian company in charge of importing genuine NBA merchandise had to call for an airlift of more Vince Carter jerseys into the country from Mexico, just to keep up with demand. In other words, it's a big world out there, and if Vince can make Canada NBA-crazy … well, you just never know.

"Going to North Carolina, you learn that everything you say and everything you do is out there for everyone to see," Carter says. "You learn how to handle yourself and what to say. It's something I'm comfortable with, because I'm used to it."

This, of course, brings up the fact that Vince Carter despises comparisons. More to the point, he despises The Comparison. He's 6-6, went to Carolina, left after his junior year, has a tele genic smile and thrills the world in three-second bursts. To anyone who feeds at the big trough of sports hype, the temptation is simply too strong. When his publicist inquires about the focus of this article, she inquires politely, "I have to ask: Is this a comparison between him and Michael Jordan? Vince really hates that."

Carter has no problem with Jordan at all; he knows him, reveres him, even worked one of his camps. But what no one can understand -- and what Carter can't say -- is that The Comparison diminishes everything he's done. It reduces the hours of weight work, the endless shooting drills, the cardiovascular routines that consistently make him the first one down at both ends of the court. The Comparison makes it sound as if he was manufactured or created. It's flattering and demeaning at the same time; it removes the sweat and blood and self-doubt from the equation, leaving an easy, ready-made conclusion.

In all fairness, it also must be said that modesty is not the sole reason Carter recoils from the Jordan linkage. He knows The Comparison is unfair not only to him but to anybody who receives it. He knows it is meant as a compliment but absorbed as a burden. He knows any comparison with Jordan seems destined to end as a parable of unfulfilled promise. He also knows there isn't much he can do about it. Still, there's something unspoken here, too, something he won't say but others will.

"He doesn't want to be the next anybody," says his friend Giddens. "His goal is the same as always: He wants to be the first Vince."


Rick Ankiel, Pat Burrell
It happens every spring. Some young hulk takes a reigning Cy Young's March heater into the palm trees, and bingo, he's the next Mark McGwire. A fresh-faced lefty rifles a few bul lets past winter-rusty big leaguers, and sud denly he's the next Sandy Koufax. Why should the first spring of the new century be any dif ferent? Phillies phenom Pat Burrell -- first baseman-outfielder by position, natural-born slugger by destinyfigures to spend most of next summer launching rockets in Scranton, Pa., home of the Phils' Triple-A Red Barons. So start planning your Pennsylvania vacation nowrailroad museum, world's largest junk yard, polka --because Burrell is the next McGwire. Or maybe the next George Brett, his boyhood idol. Burrell is bigger (6'4", 225) than his hero, but he has a similarly short swing. Says Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle: "Brett had innate abilities -- timing, hand-eye coordination, good vision -- that you can't teach. So does Pat Burrell." And if the Phillies are in the hunt in August, you might not even have to travel to Scranton to see Burrell swat. Meanwhile, Cardinals phenom Rick Ankiel is ready right now. Those 39 strikeouts in 33 innings after a late-August call-up say he was ready last summer. The 6'1", 210-pound 20-year-old can fire in the mid-90s with movement, break off a darting curveball and throw a change-up to make the heater and curve that much more effective. Ankiel doesn't exactly swagger, but you can tell by the way he carries himself that he knows he's good. "He's got insides to go with what's hanging from his left shoulder," says Cards manager Tony La Russa. "At worst, he'll be a good to very good major league pitcher. At best, he'll be outstanding to great." That's just La Russa qualifying every thing, talking lawyerspeak, when what he really means to say is, Hey, this kid is the next Koufax. -- Tim Kurkjian


Champ Bailey
His Mama gave him the nickname. An even higher power gave him the crazy-ass talent. "Mama just started calling me Champ one day," says Roland Bailey, who has gone by his moniker since he was 2. "I don't think she had a reason." There must have been a reason, though, for giving the 6'1", 184-pound Redskins rookie 4.3 speed, mad hops and great hands. Maybe the One Great Scorer longs to see a true two-way player again, someone to do what Deion Sanders did in 1996 and what Charles Woodson still yearns to do -- play both corner and receiver full time. Bailey's final season at Georgia showed us he can. Besides earning All-America honors at cornerback, he was the Bulldogs' second-leading receiver (47 catches, 744 yards, 5 TDs). But the soft-spoken 21-year-old isn't forcing the CB/WR issue -- yet: "It's probably not the right time." The right time could be any day now. In Week 6 against Arizona, one of his three picks came on a pass that made him look like the intended target. Bailey shifted into fifth gear on a Jake Plummer overthrow, chased it down at full tilt and plucked it high over his left shoulder. "A lot of corners don't have hands," he explains. "But that's one thing I do have." That, and the perfect nickname. -- Alan Grant


Michael Michalchuk, Holly Beck, Bob Burnquist
Board sports blew up in the '90s for a simple reason: The world turned upside down. The Spice Girls were respectable, the President was not and The Real World was on MTV. The earth's surface seemed torn apart and jagged. Some panicked and packed for a virtual planet that's perfectly paved. But snowboarders, skateboarders and surfers jumped on their decks and glided across whatever wrecks, ramps and obstacles the world threw out. Michael Michalchuk (far left), a 22-year-old Canadian, took his snowboard to the half-pipe and proved life isn't about getting air, but using it. He pioneered the physically improbable -- a backflip backside 540. Translation: He took off on his heel edge, flipped in the other direction and torqued 540 for good measure. (Sounds scary, but nothing like the truck crash he survived in November.) He doesn't like the name, but snowboarders call the trick "The Michalchuk" -- and he's still the only one to do it. Bob Burnquist, on the other hand, rode a skate board so he could see his name scrawled on the sport. As the master of the eggplant revert, now called "The Burnquist," he will always have that -- and more. A lanky (six feet, 154), 23-year-old Brazilian with a passion for bossa nova and hip-hop, he even bested Birdcage a time or two. Surfers don't get moves named after them, so don't expect "The Beck" anytime soon. Instead, look for Holly Beck wannabes scattered among the mostly male, big-wave lineups. Nineteen years old and totally Californian, Beck is bring ing more women to the waves with her aggressive, hard-charging style. She has the chops to compete with the world's best, but is holding off going pro because she wants something most surfer pros don't have: a college degree. With chairmen of the board Terje Haakonsen, Tony Hawk and Lisa Anderson making their competitive exits, Michalchuk, Burnquist and Beck will soar higher -- and farther ahead of the pack. That's because, along with their cat-like agility, all three have an unrelenting readiness to take on the world, rough patches and all. -- Jody Berger


Ricardo Juarez, Michael Bennett and Brian Viloria
Your typical gym princes, angling for style points while throwing practice punches and snarling for spectators, love the glamour. Olympic hopefuls Ricardo Juarez, Michael Bennett and Brian Viloria can't be bothered. "We're not cartoons," says Juarez. "We leave the cheap stuff to the pros." No kidding. Outside the ring, they're playful kids, constantly goofing on one another. But during matches, they withdraw into instinctual spaces in their brains, where well-trained neurons fire off jabs and counterpunches within milliseconds. Blank faces. No artifice. No menace. At the world championships in Houston in August, this all-business trio, along with light heavyweight Michael Simms, gave the U.S. its first multiple titles since 1986. Juarez, a 19-year-old featherweight whose middle name is Rocky (really), trains with pros in Houston, mimicking their style of getting inside with spine-flattening body blows and swift right uppercuts. Viloria, an 18-year-old light flyweight from Waipahu, Hawaii, first put on gloves when he was 6 to try to stop his hulking younger brother from bullying him. Now "Hawaiian Punch" pummels with the heft of someone 50 pounds heavier. But he still sees boxing as a "game of tag," albeit one in which the dodging and weaving get him so hyped, he's still trembling well after his bouts. Bennett, a greenhorn heavy weight, started boxing four years ago while in prison in Illinois for armed robbery. The 28-year-old ex-con says he has found purpose through religion and in the ring, where he solicits advice on footwork and defense from his younger, more experienced teammates. This crew, along with light welterweight Ricardo Williams Jr., could be the best team the U.S. has sent to the Olympics in more than a decade. But this time, they won't have a horde of patriotic Texans cheer ing them to world victory. "I'm not worried," says Viloria. "When we're zoned, we can barely hear the crowd anyway." Hopefully, though, they'll be able to hear the anthem when they're up on the medals podium in Sydney. -- Anne Marie Cruz


Cedric Cobbs
Let's get something straight: It's C-o-b-b-s. With an s. Rhymes with Hobbs, the guy in The Natural. You know, Robert Redford? Only Cedric Cobbs is no movie star with a magic bat. He's a 6'0", 217-pound lightning bolt who promises to be the most dynamic running back to hit the SEC since Bo Jackson. Cobbs' exploits are already the stuff of Arkansas legend. Like the time he won a state weightlifting title (220-pound weight class) … without training for it. Or how on his first ferocious swipe at a golf ball his clubhead shattered on impact. Or how in junior high he returned 13 of 17 kickoffs for TDs.

"I've coached Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, and Ced can be better than either of them," says Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt. "He's got the power, the vision, the explosiveness and the swerves. And he's just a baby."

Nutt planned to work Cobbs in slowly this year. Sorry, Coach, the Little Rock native with a nose for the goal line doesn't do slowly. His first runback as a Hog? A 95-yard TD. His first catch? A 36-yard score. The best part? Cobbs thrives in the spotlight. Tennessee found that out Nov. 13, when the 18-year-old freshman shredded the defending national champions (107 yards, 15 carries) as Arkansas upset the Vols, 28-24. And football's not even his primary passion: "Someday I'm gonna be an actor." Make that someday soon, because next fall, he takes on his first big rolecollege football's leading man. -- Bruce Feldman


Joe Forte
He looks innocent enough. Like a kid forced to play dodge ball by schoolyard bullies. Kinda plain, even, with his mini-'fro trimmed tighter than Ned Flanders' front yard. You couldn't pick him out of a crowd, but nonetheless, he's drawing one. He's just Joe, the next big thing in college basketball.

Joe Forte got off to the best start in school history. Considering that his school is North Carolina, that's a lot of history. He took home the MVP trophy from the Maui Classic after shooting 56% from the floor, 70% behind the arc and 92% at the line. But from his reaction, you might have thought he had just played his little brother Jason in the driveway. The thing is, when Forte pulls up for the purest jumper in college basketball, it doesn't matter who's in front of him. Off the dribble, on the run, from 22 feet -- the form is always the same, the product of a thousand hours in suburban Maryland gyms outside of D.C. The rest of his game is simply smooth, fluid and carefully thought out.

"It's the way I've always played," says the 18-year-old freshman guard. "It's normal to me." Besides the radar jumper, his most dangerous weapon is patience. He understands when to make the move and when to pull back. He knows angles, too, which you might expect from someone whose favorite hobby is chess. The only thing he doesn't seem to know is that freshmen aren't supposed to know these things. Joe Forte has every reason to scream, "Look at me!" But he doesn't have to. You already are. -- Chris Palmer


Marion Jones
They e-mail her. Lord knows how they find her on the Web, but they e-mail her that she's gorgeous, that she should try the WNBA, that she's the fastest thing they've ever seen, that they can't wait until Sydney. But then they cut to the chase:

"We love you, Marion, but please give up the long jump." You should see her face when she reads that. First it goes sullen for a minute, then wild-eyed. "If they had only kept quiet," says Marion Jones, "I might have given it up. But saying 'quit' just means I'm gonna keep on keeping on."

You don't challenge this woman. She was 8 in Palmdale, Calif., when she wrote, "I will be Olympic Champion." In Australia next September, she plans on living up to that pledge. And she doesn't expect just one track and field gold medal. Jesse Owens took four golds in 1936, Carl Lewis won four in 1984 and Flo Jo pocketed three in 1988. But Jones wants five. Needs five. The former North Carolina point guard -- she can dunk -- says she won't play in the WNBA until she's the greatest track and field athlete of all time. And that means winning the long jump, an event still relatively new and awkward to her. Gold will come easier in the 100 and 200, and in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. The long jump, though, is so mental. Sometimes she takes off wrong. Sometimes she's down the runway too fast. But she won't quit. Marion Jones will never just e-mail it in. -- Tom Friend


Roberto Luongo
"Who's he like?" That's always the first question. Well, Roberto Luongo isn't an acrobatic scrambler like Dominik Hasek. Nor is he an emotional battler like Patrick Roy. If anything, his soft-spoken demeanor and lanky body in net remind you of Ken Dryden, the Cornell grad who backstopped five Stanley Cup winners in Montreal during the 1970s. One thing the rookie Islander goalkeeper does have in common with those other guys is his love of pres sure. When you see him play, even a little bit, the question changes to, "Did you see that?" His mom, Lina, says Roberto has always played his best games when the stakes were high: "That's why I wasn't worried about him when he called from Boston [on Nov. 28] to tell us he was getting his first NHL start. I knew he'd be just fine."

Lina's boy was more than fine. He was spectacular. Luongo, who shoulders the lofty expectations that come with being the highest drafted goaltender in NHL history -- fourth overall in 1997 -- stopped 43 shots, leading his undermanned Islanders to a 2-1 win over the Bruins. Quite a debut, even for a kid from northern Montreal with a "can't-miss" banner draped over his broad shoulders.

"It was really exciting," says Luongo, whose 6'3" frame can intimidate shooters. "But I'm also really glad to get it out of the way." Soon, maybe real soon, Luongo will take over as the struggling franchise's top goalie. Clearly, he's the Islanders' best hope for a return to glory. That means more pressure for the 20-year-old prodigy. But they seem to have found the right man for the job. -- E.J. Hradek


Sergio Garcia
For 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon in August, El Niño made Tiger seem old. Granted, Sergio Garcia had already been designated golf's next big thing. Making his Masters debut in April, the 19-year-old Spaniard played practice rounds with Jack and Arnold and finished low amateur.

In July, he won his first European Tour event. But after crash-diving at Carnoustie with an 89-83, he showed up at the PGA Championship saying, "No more British Open questions." Twenty-four hours later, after a 66 to take the first-round lead, nobody was asking. On Sunday, four shots back of Woods, Garcia birdied the par-3 13th, then looked back up the hill to make sure Tiger was paying attention. Woods double-bogeyed 13. His lead was now one. Three holes later, Garcia closed his eyes, whipped a 6-iron out of the roots of a tree and ran up the fairway, leaping to watch the shot finish on the green -- as 21 million people jumped off their couches. Woods held off Garcia's charge, but in his victory speech, an exhausted Tiger saluted his challenger: "He hits a bad shot and feels it into a positive. He exudes confidence. I was like that."

Was? El Niño has a sweet smile that makes mothers want to hug him, but -- age aside -- this is no kid. He keeps his wrists cocked late like Hogan, and he holes a lot of shots like Seve. And he's the only player who, even for a few holes, can steal a gallery from Tiger Woods. -- T.R. Reinman


Ian Thorpe
Don't bug Ian Thorpe about his Guinness-worthy feet. "Sure, they're an advantage," admits the 17-year-old Sydney native with size-17 dogs. "But they're not monstrously out of proportion to the rest of me." Maybe not, but at 6'5", the freestyler kicks up such a wash that opponents calculate heat times to avoid drawing lanes next to him. The youngest-ever swimmer on the Australian men's team at 14, Thorpedo -- his apt nickname -- could Mark Spitz the competition at the 2000 Games. At August's Pan Pacifics in Sydney, he needed only three days to drop three world records: the 200-meter twice (his 1:46.00 broke the record he had set the previous day) and the 400-meter (3:41.83). But he may need even better times just to make his country's Olympic team: The Australians boast the top two 200-meter freestylers in the world and the top three in the 400. Convinced that his world records weren't going to psyche anyone out, Thorpe took a temporary leave of absence from high school -- a difficult decision, as he's in the top 5 in his class -- to focus on training. He even took advantage of a recent ankle injury to concentrate on strengthening his stroke. Who knows what he'll do with a pull as powerful as his kick? "I'm incredibly inspired right now," says Thorpe. "It's my nature to want to exceed obstacles." And six golds would give the rabid home crowd a better number to obsess over. -- Anne Marie Cruz


Stars and Strikers
For the next incubator of male soccer talent, we bring you … the U.S. of A. No, we're not giddy from that No. 4 finish in the Under-17 World Cup. Thanks to a program called Project-40, America's best young ones finally have a chance to keep pace with the rest of the planet. Maybe you've noticed: Each time the real Cup rolls around, U.S. men find themselves facing teams more experienced and younger. That's because foreign prodigies enter the pros at 17 while America's best prospects enter the NCAA, which limits their games and practice hours.

Project-40, created by Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation in '97, offers an alternative. It identifies our top 40 or so amateurs, guarantees the MLS minimum ($24,000) for the first year -- plus tuition money down the road -- then assigns them to an MLS club. Those who don't get the minutes see action with the Pro-40 Select team in the second-tier A-League. Off-season, some train overseas with big-time clubs like Manchester United and AC Milan. With the MLS draft offering no such guarantees, UVa. star Ben Olsen and South Carolina's Josh Wolff took the Pro-40 carrot as juniors. Olsen was '98 MLS Rookie of the Year for D.C. United; Wolff raised the MLS and U.S. Open Cup trophies with the Chicago Fire that year. But the true measure of Project-40 lies with teens. The Beasley brothers of Fort Wayne, Ind., -- Jamar, 20, a forward, and DaMarcus, 17, a midfielder -- were the first high school recruits. Jamar plays with the New England Revolution; DaMarcus reports to L.A.'s Galaxy after graduation in June.

"I want to see how far I can go," says DaMarcus, who earned the Silver Ball as the second-best player at the U-17 World Cup (behind teammate and German pro Landon Donovan). "The only way to do that is to see how I stand up against the best in the world." -- Jeff Bradley


Puckstoppers on Parade -- Quebec
Can a single drop of water start a river? Ask Patrick Roy. Since the Quebec City native took the NHL by storm in 1986 -- winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie netminder with the Canadiens -- a flood of goalies has poured from the province. Last season, 18 goaltending graduates of the Quebec Midget AAA League (ages 15-16) found crease space on NHL rosters. Montreal-Bourassa, which competes in the same league, has produced a stream of NHL goalies that includes Stephane Fiset, Felix Potvin, Martin Brodeur, Eric Fichaud, Jean-Sebastien Aubin and 20-year-old Roberto Luongo (page 81). Not bad, eh?

"Roy is the one who started the whole phenomenon of the Quebec League goalie," says Roland Faubert of the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. Roy came out of a high-scoring culture where goalies were virtually an afterthought. "After he made it big, all the kids wanted to be like Patrick."

As Roy's star ascended over hockey-mad Montreal (he's now with Colorado), Quebec goalie schools spilled over with young talents who might have previously idolized graceful snipers like Guy Lafleur. These mini-netminders were taught the principles of Roy's butterfly style by, among others, François Allaire, his goaltending coach with Montreal. Allaire, who now works for Anaheim, preaches a percentage game designed to take away the bottom of the net by fanning out the leg pads. Today, all Quebec-born goalies incorporate some form of the butterfly into their approach. And yes, the frozen pond is still stocked with prospects. While the Flyers were scooping up 18-year-old Maxime Ouellet in last June's entry draft, the scouts were already raving about 16-year-old Pascal Leclaire, who'll be draft-eligible in 2001. At age 34, old man Roy is still one of the best. But the pipeline he primed should keep right on flowing well past his retirement. -- E.J. Hradek


Swede Spot -- Perstorp, Sweden
A breeding ground for world-class golfers has got to be a place where you can tee it up year-round, right? Where the only things that threaten course conditions are too much sun and too many divots, right? Wrong. Imagine Minnesota, with subzero winters, soggy springs and too-short summers. Now subtract about 100 of the state's 470 golf courses, then double its population to roughly nine million, so it's just about impossible to get a tee time. Welcome to Sweden. Land of some of the purest ball-strikers and smoothest putters on the planet. Home to Annika Sorenstam, Jesper Parnevik and up-and-comers like Christopher Hanell and Maria Hjorth, who'll arrive on the U.S. tours sooner than later. How can this be? Well, it's got a lot more to do with psychology than meteorology. "Golf is perfect for Swedes," says Pia Nilsson, former national team coach for the Swedish Golf Federation. "We like to be outside." For most natives, golf is the equivalent of a nature walk or an afternoon of cross-country skiing -- a simple leisure-time activity, not a compulsion that pushes people to the edge of their frustration threshold. Players learn the basics on four- and five-hole courses carved out of farmland. If they aspire to play 18 holes on a champion ship course, they must first obtain a green card by passing a skills test and a written exam. And if they can't shoot a round in the low 100s, they have to keep practicing until they can. Youngsters with pro potential are recruited to Perstorp, home of Sweden's "golf gymnasium," where they receive a high school education and advanced instruction that includes strength conditioning, nutrition tips and even meditation. During the long winter, they focus on nothing but swing mechanics. When the ground begins to thaw, though, watch out. "On the course," Nilsson says, "we're interested only in scores." -- J. B.


Dutchboys of Summer
Baseball was invented in New York, and New York was invented by the Dutch. So, in keeping with the what-goes-around-comes-around nature of things, baseball is now looking to Holland for talent. The Montreal Expos' Amsterdam baseball academy, opened in November '98, is the largest MLB outpost in Europe. The 300-man roster includes three Dutchmen with U.S. minor league experience: 3B and prize pupil Vince Rooi, SS/OF Danny Rombley and 2B Tim Van Pareren. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Marlins and Mariners are all expanding their Netherlands presence faster than you can say Bert Blyleven.

"You simply have to cover all corners of the globe," says Fred Ferreira, Montreal's director of international scouting. "The Holland system is very well organized, they have good coaching and they speak English. It's an ideal situation for scouting European talent."

The Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Association, founded in 1911, currently boasts more than 22,000 players, ranging from 7-year-old peanuts to members of the 10-team Senior Division, a semipro circuit that includes the Amsterdam Expos. "What makes Holland so intriguing is its connection to the Caribbean," says Mets international scouting director Omar Minaya, alluding to the string of islands known as the Antilles (including Andruw Jones' native Curaçao). While the majority of Senior Division players are Dutch-born, many learned the game in the islands, then left as teens to hone their skills in Holland. Others, like Rooi, are descendants of Caribbean immigrants. Which brings us back to our little history lesson. When the Brits first came to New York (née New Amsterdam), they derisively referred to the Dutch settlers as Jan-Kees, two common first names. The term hung around, and in 1913 it was attached -- with Americanized spelling -- to a certain club that now plays in the Bronx. In other words, it's only a matter of time before someone named Jan is pitching in pinstripes. -- Brendan O'Connor


24-7 Hoops -- Atlanta
Dereck Whittenburg was more than a little skeptical. The former N.C. State star had heard stories of all-night jam sessions in the old K-mart down on Atlanta's Stewart Ave. So one night around 2 a.m., he decided to check it out for himself. "I was shocked," he says. "That place was packed." In a city crawling with hoops talent, the Run 'N Shoot Athletic Center has become a mecca for roundball junkies, playground legends and millionaire pros. "In the summer, probably 20% of the NBA stays in Atlanta," Whittenburg says. "Run 'N Shoot is a place for them." LSU senior Jabari Smith, a 6'11" center and potential first-round draft pick, "practically grew up here," says RNS program director Woody Garrett. Same goes for Keisha Brown, a junior guard for the Georgia women's team and the National Prep Player of the Year back in '96. Opened in 1993, RNS features seven full courts and the sweet sound of bouncing balls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On any given July night, it's not uncommon to see Stephon Marbury, Jerry Stackhouse, Darrell Armstrong or Sharif Abdur-Rahim breaking out new moves -- or "Killer" Berry, a thirtysomething Atlanta asphalt god, showing somebody up with old ones. Last summer, RNS began creating youth programs and clinics to help cultivate some of the raw goods drawn in by the NBA crowd. The hometown Hawks and the Harlem Globetrotters also sponsored camps. Next summer, the facility will host five AAU tourneys, and Nike is on board for the third week of June. Best of all: You can shoot yourself silly for just six bucks a visit. 'Cuz while you may get run off the court, you won't get run out of the gym. -- Bruce Feldman


Rough Riders -- Laguna Beach, California
Wanna bump tires with the best? Take a spin down Telonics Trail in Laguna Beach, Calif. The place is a magnet for elite mountain bikers Hans Rey (right) and Britain's Steve Peat, who makes an annual winter pilgrimage to the area. "The weather keeps you motivated," says Peat, the '99 World Cup downhill silver medalist. "Every day is 80a and sunny." The weather is a big reason why Laguna has become a hot spot for the bike industry, but it's hardly the only reason. For starters, the scenery rocks. Located in Aliso & Wood Canyons Regional Park, Telonics winds 1¤ miles down a tricky path filled with steep descents and sharp turns, ending within walking distance of the ocean. Then there's the convenience. Thanks to a paved road leading to the top, a round-trip takes less than 20 minutes: three down by bike, 15 back up by car -- and, yes, there's usually someone willing to give you a lift. "It's so accessible," says Leigh Donovan (center), a local resident and three-time medalist at the World Mountain Bike Championships. Although shorter than the trails used for top competitions, Telonics offers plenty of chances to test equipment and grab a 50-mph buzz. "You can see how your bike handles at high speeds, check your brakes and suspension, then reset and try another run," says Eric Carter, another local dweller and the '99 U.S. national downhill champ. On any given weekday, you might find 20 or more riders on Telonics. The whole park has grown so popular (there are dozens of other trails) that many regulars try to downplay the hype. But Donovan can't help herself. "Telonics is one of those trails that never gets old," she says. "Each ride down is a new adventure." -- Shelly Gepfert


QB High -- Newhall, Calif.
Some quarterbacks are born, but most are made -- and the QB factory of the moment is Hart High in Newhall, Calif. By 2001, as many as four Hart grads could be barking signals in Division I, with a fifth on the way. Two of those prodigies -- Nevada soph David Neill and Cal frosh Kyle Boller -- already start. Another, Steve McKeon, should challenge for Army's QB job next fall after returning from a Mormon mission. Hart's current golden boy, junior Kyle Matter, is on pace to rewrite the school record books. And strong-armed soph Matt Moore might be the best of the bunch, says Hart offensive coordinator Dean Herrington.

The buzz in the San Fernando Valley is so loud that Herrington and older brother Mike, the Indians' head coach, are constantly fielding calls from parents asking if little Johnny can transfer over. But becoming the next Elway requires a lot of sacrifice. "The No.1 quality we want is toughness in the pocket," Dean says. His guys practice throwing with a tackler hanging on their legs, then get whacked in the chest with a blocking pad while releasing the ball. "From the start of two-a-days, our quarterbacks are live. We never baby 'em." Piloting the Hart offense, a variation of the Run n' Shoot, is a yearlong gig. After the season ends, QBs hit the weights and work with receivers on patterns. May means spring football -- basically an excuse to squeeze in more coaching before school ends and the real fun begins: 7-on-7 games six days a week all summer. About the only thing a Hart passer won't see is one of those QB tutors who've become so popular on the West Coast. They're off-limits. "We want these kids to learn things our way," Dean says. And considering the school's string of 14 consecutive All-Southern Section quarterbacks, who can argue? -- B. F.


Sweet-Shootin' Sheilas -- Canberra, Australia
When it comes to women's hoops, Australia's got next. And we don't mean homecourt at the Sydney Olympics. Eight Aussies played in the WNBA last summer, the most from any foreign country. And the Aussie national team has gone from Olympic nonqualifier in '92 to bronze medalist in '96 to gold digger in '00. Much of the credit goes to Basketball Australia, the government body that organizes the sport from the local to the national stages, annually providing 200 teenage girls in nine regions with individual instruction through its Intensive Training Centre Program. Basketball Australia has actually been around since 1946. But the turning point came in 1981, with the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport, a facility in Canberra that houses and develops the country's best young athletes. Based on recommendations from Basketball Australia coaches, AIS trains up to a dozen female hoopsters between the ages of 16 and 18 each year. "Most of us on the '92 national squad hadn't learned to play through the organized system that exists today," says Phoenix Mercury guard and Aussie native Michele Timms. "It was around when we were growing up, but it was growing too." All but four of the 18 players on the current national team came from AIS, including Detroit Shock All-Star guard Sandy Brondello and 18-year-old Lauren Jackson, a 6'5" center and reigning MVP of Australia's eight-team Women's National Basketball League. Jackson averaged 23 ppg and 12 rpg while leading AIS to the WNBL title last season. Now a member of the Canberra Capi tals (look for her stateside in 2001), she has an endorsement deal with Nike and the kind of talent that generates huge expectations. "Lauren will be the Michael Jordan of women's basketball," Timms predicts. "She's better than Chamique Holdsclaw and she's still developing." Right along with the rest of her mates. -- S. G.


Australia: Let's be frank: Australia's a country of ex-cons (read your history). So it's no surprise they take X-sports seriously. Particularly inline. They have the facilities: Anyone who's anyone has skated at Melbourne's Prahran ramp or Sydney's Vert X Club. And now, they have the stars: Matt Salerno, Cesar Mora (both from Sydney) and '99's Aggressive Skaters Association vert Rookie of the Year, Shane Yost of Tasmania. Says ASA executive producer Mark Shays: "The list goes on and on." Near the top: Blake Dennis, Dion Antony and Sam Fogarty.


Brazil: It pays to start early. Seven of the current top 20 CART drivers in the world are from Brazil, which in '99 won its first Nations Cup (think Winston Cup for countries). And all seven raced (and won) in go-karts before they had licenses. If that's the key to open-wheel success, Brazilians will be opening doors for some time: Kart racing is muito grande in Brazil, surpassed only by futebol. Tarso Marques and Helio Castro-Neves are raw but ready for 2000. Emerson Fittipaldi must be proudand not just of superstar nephew Christian.


Japan: The rage in Japanese comics in the '80s was Captain Tsubasa, a soccer-mad boy who dribbles a ball nonstop. We're not saying he influenced today's young stylish talent, but someone cranked the heat under the country's New Wave. Japan was runner-up in the last Under-20 World Cup, and individual stars are breaking out of the system: Heartthrob mid fielder Hidetoshi Nakata gets better by the week for Perugia in Italy's Serie A, and midfielder Hiroshi Nanami starts for Venezia. By the time Japan co-hosts the '02 World Cup, guys like forward Shoji Jo and midfielder Shinji Ono may have already joined them in the bigs.


China: Two reasons China will be a player in hoops: 1) a billion-plus people, and 2) Nike. The latter is selling shoes to the for mer, and teaming with the Chinese Basketball Fed era tion to develop the game. If it means the odd baller winds up in the NBA, well, that's the price of free trade. First out: 7'1'', 21-year-old Wang Zhi-Zhi, drafted by the Mavs last summer (still honing his game in Beijing), and 7'5'', 19-year-old Yao Ming (as yet undrafted). He comes from the northern pro vince of Liaoning, which apparently grows them big. Says Kim Bohuny, senior director of basket ball development for the NBA: "China's emergence is just a matter of time."


Hawaii: Forget the Niners (if you haven't already). Foot ball's real dynasty is Honolulu's St. Louis School, state champs 14 years running. It's not just the islands these kids rule: On average over the past five years, SLS has sent eight alums into D-1. And in the '98 NFL draft, three SLS grads were picked: C Olin Kreutz (Bears), RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (Steelers) and DT Viliami Maumau (drafted by Panthers, now with Broncos). That's the first time a high school has been so blessed in 30 years. Oh, yes: Last year, following a win in Vegas, some players were put on probation when a party went awry strippers, smashed beds, mayhem. What better sign that these kids are pro material?


Washington: In a showing usually reserved for the Sun Belt, four Washingtonians were first-rounders in this year's MLB draft (OF B.J. Garbe was picked fifth overall by the Twins). Credit the increase of "select" teams: more kids playing more ball. Credit a population influx from Cali. Credit the Mariners: The kids want to be like Junior. The beneficiaries are MLB and '97 and '98 Pac-10 champ Washington. In all, seven Huskies went in June's draft. Trees aren't all they grow in the Evergreen State.


Venezuela: The next Dominican Republic? Believe it. Half of all MLB teams have "academies" here; the Expos system, in particular, is ripe with Venezuelans. Meanwhile, tomorrow's stars are inspired by today's via DirecTV: Alfonzo, Cedeño, Vizquel, Galarraga. One Mets scout says Vene zuelans have better fundamentals than the Dominicans (see Alfonzo, Vizquel). And, in a country that stresses schooling, they pick up English and adapt to the U.S. quickly. Hotbeds: Carácas and Valencia (and when their teams play, it's Yankees-Red Sox, Latin-style). Up next: Melvin Mora, if the NLCS is an indicator. No wonder the Mets just added three Venezuelan scouts.


India: Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes are the Jordan and Pippen of India. The world's No. 1 doubles team (the first tandem to make all four grand slam finals, winning two) can't walk the streets of Madras or New Delhi without being mobbed. What they can doand have doneis inspire a new generation of Indians to pick up rackets, even as their homeland hosts more Challenger events (think Triple-A baseball). Sixteen-year-old Sunil Kumar (from Punjab) and under-14 champ Chatwinder Singh (Madras) are just the first wave of hot prospects, as the second-most populous country on Earth learns to lob.


United Arab Emirates: It was 1978 when 18-year-old Abdulla Kareem El-Reyes hit the lanes for the first time, bowling a 158 at the Dubai Sheraton. The next day he rolled from 9 a.m. 'til midnight (high game: 194), and by year's end he'd founded the UAE Bowling Asso ciation. Yup, another bowling-in-the-desert success story: Today, only soccer is bigger in this seven-state federation. In November, the opening ceremony of the World Tenpin Bowl Championship was held before 35,000 fans; the tournament was covered live on TV. The PBA is watching: Insiders say Muhammed Khalifa Al Qubaisi, Hulaiman Al Hamly and Naif Oqab are Tour material. Alas, the Sheraton lanes are gonereplaced by a disco. But a 2,000-seat bowling center will open nearby in March.


Israel: You're thinking: one World Cup appearance (1970). We're saying: The Temple wasn't built (or rebuilt) in a day. Israel has been a UEFA member since '91, and playing against soccer's elite has raised its game. Israel looked good in the '98 Cup qualifiers, better in the Euro 2000 group. All of which means the big leagues can't be far behind. Already, midfielders Tal Banin (Brescia) and Eyal Berkovic (Celtic) and forward Haim Revivo (Celta Vigo) have made it to Europe. Next? Scouts say Maccabi Haifa forwards Yaniv Kattan and Rafi Cohen, and defender Arik Benado.


Senegal: Last year, Grizzly F Makhtar Ndiaye made history as the first Senegalese NBAer. Moreand betterwill come. Only Canada has more D-1 players this year than Senegal's dozen, which includes a trio of NBA prospects (Auburn C Mamadou Ndiaye, Kentucky F Jules Camara and UConn F/C Souleymane Wane). Senegal has only one in door court (in the capital, Dakar), but that hasn't kept the country's John WoodenMamadou Sowfrom spreading the game throughout the country. The women also got game: They dominate African tourneys, and C Astou Ndiaye plays for the WNBA's Detroit Shock. Take heed: A second indoor court is coming.


Lithuania: Lithuanian hoops history starts way before those tie-dyed uniforms: They've been ballin' since the '30s, when Lithuanian-American Frank Lubin (a gold medalist with the U.S.) brought the game to the Baltic. And it's finally paying off: The Lithuanians bronzed in '92. More to the point (or to the paint), Kaunas, the country's second-largest city, has become a hoops factory: Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Arvydas Sabonis are hometown boys, and three favorite sons are D-1 worthy: Clemson F Andrius Jurkunas, Delaware G Kestutis Marciulionis and G Ramunas Petraitis of Oregon State. It won't stop herethe "commissioner" of the Lithuanian Basketball League is a friend of U.S. hoops: Sarunas Marciulionis, who wore one of those goofy unis and had a nice run with the Warriors and Sonics.


Germany: "Boxing renaissance" is an oxymoron, but here's one spot where pugilism still cooks. The recipe: Mix two aggressive, sleaze-free promoters (Wilfried Sauerland and Klaus-Peter Kohl), add sponsorship green and spice with the legacy of an old champ (IBF light-heavy Henry Maske). The German fight scene is tasty enough to attract boxers from all over: Uzbekistani Artur Grigorian (WBO lightweight champ), Pole Dariusz Michalczewski (longtime WBO light-heavy champ), Russian Ahmed Kotiev (WBO welterweight champ) and Cuban Juan Carlos Gomez (WBC cruiserweight champ). But the home grown talent isn't shabby either. No, not Axel Schultz -- Sven Ottke is IBF super-middleweight champ and Michel Trabant is a 23-0 welterweight.


Sweden: Sweden as hockey hot spot? Duh! But a one-reindeer town north of everywhere as hockey's epicenter? That's a little cool, right? Little Örnsköldsvik has already produced Peter Forsberg (Avs), Niklas Sundstrom (Sharks) and Canucks Markus Naslund and David Ytfeldt. Now come the Sedin twinsDaniel and Henrikdrafted 2 and 3 overall by Vancouver last June. They still play for the local (and legendary) club, MoDo Hockey, as do highly touted linemate Mattias Weinhandl and C Samuel Pahlsson, another local. Ex-MoDo Hockey coach Carlabel Berglund is the magic maker. Says former Ranger and O-vik native Anders Hedberg: "He put hockey in O-vik's soul."


Time was when baseball was our international sport and the Dodgers its High Ambassador. (They signed Cuban P Adolfo Luque way back in '30.) Today, hoops rivals soccer in global popularity (see below), and the Mavericks are the ones cashing in. (Well, kind of.) Their most recent overseas project is this year's second-round pick, 7'1'' Wang Zhi-Zhi (see left). He'll be the NBA's first Chinese playerif he ever gets here. Their roster already includes a Croat (F Bruno Sundov), a German (F Dirk Nowitzki) and 31 scouts in Angola, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, China, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and Turkey (see above). Donn Nelson tops the pyramid. But it's not nepotism: Coach Don's son was an assistant coach for Lithuania's national team. Next summer's itinerary: Senegal, Nigeria and Qatar.


Taiwan: Japan and Korea are so two years ago. Asia's new diamond power is Taiwan. The Dodgers (of course) were first in, snagging 18-year-old lefty Hong-Chih Kuo and 21-year-old OF Chin-Feng Chen, MVP of the California (A) League. And the Rockies paid their biggest amateur signing bonus ever ($2.2 mil) for 18-year-old righty Tsao Chin-Hui. Put simply, all those Little League All-Stars (Chin-Feng Chen batted leadoff for the '90 LLWS champs) are growing up: In August's IBA World Junior Championship, Taiwan was second only to the U.S. Scouts are currently sniffing around a trio of pitchers: Tsai Chung-Nan (Taipei Physical Education College), Tsao Chun-Yang (Painan Lions in Taiwan) and Hsu Ming-Chieh (Seibu Lions in Japan).