Talented young stars grace area franchises
Disappointment and DC sports have gone hand in hand for over a decade now, as overspending by the Redskins, the so-called curse of Les Boulez on the Wizards and the penny-pinching ways of the Nationals and Capitals have led to traditions of futility. Big name busts have been the name of the game, as the slightest mention of Jaromir Jagr, Juwan Howard or Steve Spurrier still bring a cringe to capital-area faithfuls. Thankfully, there is hope on the horizon, because for the first time in recent memory our local teams are home to some of sports' brightest young athletes. History has not been kind in recent years, but many young talents are on the verge of breaking out in our own backyard, before they leave town and star elsewhere, of course. Remember Alfonso Soriano, Brad Johnson, Freddy Adu and the champion Wizard-Pistons (Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace) of 2005? Here's a rundown of our studs, available for your viewing pleasure right down the road:
Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards
Position: Point guard
Key stat: 28.4-points per game in '06-'07
In town until: 2009 (6-year, $63 million contract in 2003)
Agent Zero has proven to be a hero in recent years, averaging 28.4 points per game in 2006-2007 before a brutal knee injury ended his season. This year, the Wizards looked absolutely hapless without Arenas and Caron Butler, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers once again in the first round of the playoffs. Although his ego sometimes gets the best of him (where were his 50+ points against Portland?), Arenas is one of the league's rising stars, an attraction not found every day. In a division that packs Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, the Wizards' road ahead is no tea party, but with Gil leading the way, Verizon Center will at least field a competitive team night in and night out. So fire up the Hibachi, and watch the Wiz contend for years to come in the fast-developing Eastern Conference.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Position: Third base
Key stat: 110-runs batted in (RBI) in 2006 (top among rookies)
In town until: 2011 (eligible for free agency), eligible for arbitration next year
The upcoming season looks to be another parade of inability for the Washington Nationals, but the one bright spot will be corner infielder Ryan Zimmerman. A native of Virginia in his second season with the Nats, Zimmerman came in second in Rookie of the Year voting after a first season in which he hit .287 with 20 homers and 110 RBIs. Come summer, the Nats look to be a seller in the trade market, and Zimmerman is probably the only "untouchable" in the organization. Although he is probably only the third-best third baseman in the division (behind Florida's Miguel Cabrera and New York's David Wright), Zimmerman at age 22 is the cornerstone of the franchise, and will look to be its anchor at the hot corner. When the new ballpark arrives and the wallets hopefully open, Zimmerman will be relied on to lead the Nats back to prominence.
Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins
Key stat: 87.6-quarterback rating in last three games
In town until: 2009 (5-year rookie contract in 2005)
After glowing expectations, the Redskins once again fell flat on their faces, finishing with a 5-11 record and shattered playoff dreams. Still, one bright spot was the improved play of Jason Campbell, the quarterback of the future. After veteran Mark Brunell was benched (albeit weeks too late), Campbell stepped into the starting role and played well, leading a heroic drive against Tampa Bay and engineering a win against conference powerhouse Carolina. Like all young quarterbacks, Campbell struggled at times, winning just two of his seven starts and finishing with a meager quarterback rating of 76.5. Still, he showed improvement in the season's final games, throwing four touchdowns and just one interception in the season's final three games, including an impressive victory against the NFC runner-up New Orleans Saints. Next year is another fresh season, bringing a clean slate to Landover. The Skin's can't be worse than they were this year, can they? Yes, sadly they can. But Campbell for one looks to be M'm! M'm! Good. It's a shame the same can't be said about the rest of the team.
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Position: Left wing
Key stat: 46 - goals scored last season
In town until: 2008 (3-year rookie contract in 2005)
Selected with the first overall pick in the last pre-lockout draft, Ovechkin burst on the scene when the NHL was resurrected, scoring a rookie-record 52 goals en route to the Calder Trophy and Rookie of the Year honors. Alexander the Great has emerged as one of the league's most exciting players, scoring 46 goals this past season, good for fourth best in the NHL, despite playing on a terrible team whose playoff hopes died before New Year's. The upcoming off-season is crucial for the Caps and Ovechkin's future. With free agency looming, owner Ted Leonsis must delve into his pockets and bring in some talent to convince Ovechkin to stay. Although he has seemed content thus far, the tradition of losing will eventually wear on the young scoring phenom. This year, fellow Russian wing Alexander Semin has provided some scoring help. But without any proven defensemen or other options, Washington will continue to occupy the cellar of the NHL, with or without their dynamic scorer.
So go out and enjoy our young players, while they're still in town. Given recent precedent, our budding stars (and our championship aspirations) may very well go the way of the Washington Freedom.
Andrew Kung. Andrew Kung is a rising Magnet junior who is psyched for a year of Chips Online. He has lived in New York, Michigan, and New Mexico prior to his current residence in Maryland. As a cynical sports fan, he is not often disappointed, but not … More »