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Up-and-coming attractions

December 27, 2008|Times Staff Writers

A look at some of the young athletes expected to make a name for themselves in 2009:

Action sports

Snowboarders aspiring to end the Shaun White dominance in the halfpipe include Greg Bretz, 17, and Trevor Jacob, 15, both residing in Mammoth Lakes. Bretz has won a World Cup event this year. Jacob last year became the youngest rider to make the halfpipe finals at the U.S. Open. Slightly older and hungry, after missing qualifying for the 2006 Olympic team by a hair: Danny Davis, 20, from Truckee. At a recent Grand Prix event, he landed back-to-back 1080s, which will be a required feat at the 2010 Olympics.

In women's competition, the crystal ball places Gretchen Bleiler, Australia's Torah Bright and Kelly Clark on the podium, but watch out for Ellery Hollingsworth, 17, an honors student of the halfpipe and also at Vermont's Stratton Mountain School, where she's a senior.


The rookie everyone will be talking about is David Price, the Tampa Bay Rays pitcher whose October heroics obscured the fact that his next major league start will be his second, but scouts and analysts expect Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters to come up huge as well. Wieters, 22, got a then-record $6-million signing bonus in 2006. He made his minor league debut last year, hitting .355 with 27 home runs and more walks than strikeouts, split between Class A and double A, and the Orioles traded Ramon Hernandez to make room for him in their 2009 lineup.


Shawn Estrada was part of a medal-less U.S. Olympic boxing team that is regarded as the most disappointing in history, but the East Los Angeles product who suffered through the death of his father while in Beijing has two fast first-round knockouts as a pro. He plans to fight as often as twice a month (usually around L.A.) during this career-building part of his middleweight experience and he's already been showcased in Ontario and Cabazon. For local fight fans interested in tracking a tough, furious-punching prospect who offers unmistakable similarities to the probably retiring "Golden Boy" Oscar De La Hoya, this is your guy.

College baseball

Gerrit Cole of UCLA was drafted 28th overall by the New York Yankees in June out of Orange Lutheran High but became one of the few high school players in recent years to turn down a bonus offer and enroll in college instead. He's a right-handed freshman pitcher with a 97-mph fastball.

College basketball

Tyler Zeller, a 7-foot freshman, won't get a chance to contribute to North Carolina's national championship run this season -- the Tar Heels are slam-dunk favorites to win it, right? -- but he'll be a key to the title chase in 2009-10. Zeller, who scored 43 points in the Indiana high school championship game last season, started the first two games for North Carolina as a true freshman before he was lost for the season because of a broken wrist. The extra year should give Zeller time to beef up his skinny frame.

College football

The incredible run/pass talents of Jake Locker, Washington's junior-to-be quarterback, have been derailed by injury and bad karma. Yet, a player who may be as talented as Florida's Tim Tebow could experience a reawakening under new Coach Steve Sarkisian. Locker rushed for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman in 2007, while throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. A thumb injury in 2008 forced Locker to sit out the last eight games of Washington's miserable 0-12 season, but that's all hideous history starting with spring practice in '09.

Also watch Kevin Prince, UCLA quarterback. It's not often that a redshirt freshman has a chance to unseat a player who set a school record. But when that record was quarterback Kevin Craft's 20 interceptions during UCLA's 4-8 season, the Bruins need to seek other options. Prince is expected to get a long look during spring practice. He impressed Bruins coaches with his strong arm and dedication. Prince almost always stayed after practice putting in extra work. The downside is that the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Prince has not played in two years. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener as a senior at Encino Crespi High.


Ji-Yai Shin joins the LPGA Tour after being a force on the Korean and Japanese tours, and after winning the British Women's Open. She also won the season-ending ADT Championship on the U.S. tour with a one-stroke victory over Karrie Webb. Only 20, she has a record-tying 20 career victories on the Korean tour.

Dustin Johnson got off to a fast rookie start on the PGA Tour in 2008, winning almost $450,000 with three finishes in the top 12 in the first five events, then reality hit. He missed 12 cuts in his next 21 tournaments and had only one top-20 finish in that time. But in September, he won the Turning Stone Resort Championship, earned a two-year exemption and could be a factor in his second year on tour.

High schools

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