But as the Suns fell off last season from being a playoff team to just another dysfunctional group of Gen X millionaires, in part because Stoudemire missed 27 games with injuries, the 21-year-old's star dimmed a little.
Now, with the Suns on the verge of having the biggest turnaround of any team in the league, this 6-foot-10, 245-pound center has become one of the game's most explosive players.
The addition of veteran point guard Steve Nash has helped the Suns in general, but none more than Stoudemire, who finished the calendar year ranked in the top five in scoring and field-goal percentage.
Should the Suns build on their fast start and make a long run deep into the playoffs, Stoudemire will undoubtedly play a huge role. Should Phoenix win its first NBA championship, the hype surrounding Stoudemire might rival that of King James.
- Don Markus
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
When the Anaheim Angels lost third baseman Troy Glaus to free agency this month, their disappointment was somewhat muted because they have another slugger positioned to take Glaus' place.
Dallas McPherson, 24, has the same burly build as Glaus, and he put up some burly numbers last year in the minor leagues: 40 home runs, 36 doubles and 14 triples.
McPherson will head to spring training as the preseason favorite for American League Rookie of the Year, and the Angels can only hope he lives up to the hype.
A second-round draft pick out of The Citadel in 2001, McPherson had a steady rise through the minor leagues. Last season, he hit 20 home runs at Double-A and 20 more at Triple-A before jumping to the big leagues in September.
With a shoulder injury limiting Glaus to designated hitter duties and second baseman Adam Kennedy down with a late-season knee injury, the Angels thrust McPherson onto their playoff roster.
He had just one hit and struck out four times in nine at-bats, as the Boston Red Sox swept the Angels in the Division Series. McPherson's high propensity for strikeouts is a concern -- he had 169 in 135 minor league games last year -- but if he makes the adjustments, he could quickly become a star.
- Joe Christensen
John Thompson III has the pedigree and Gary Williams has the titles, but George Washington's Karl Hobbs is the hottest college basketball coach around the nation's capital -- and maybe the nation.
Hobbs, 43, is an overnight sensation two decades in the making.
He got the ball to Patrick Ewing when they were high school teammates in Boston and set assist records for Connecticut when the Huskies were bottom feeders in the Big East Conference. Mike Jarvis, his prep coach, got Hobbs his first assistant's job, at Boston University.
Hobbs spent eight seasons as an assistant at Connecticut and helped develop Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton. He can still coach guard play and how to find the open man. The 20th-ranked Colonials, who handled Michigan State and Maryland on successive days at the BB&T; Classic, made 48 percent of their three-pointers during an 8-1 start, the only blemish being a loss at Wake Forest.
GW is the favorite in the Atlantic 10 Conference, which sent two teams to the Elite Eight last season. One was Saint Joseph's, where Phil Martelli would gladly coach for life. The other was Xavier, which has become a steppingstone for coaches. The Colonials could find themselves in a similar situation with Hobbs, who began the season sandbagging about the difficulty of recruiting at GW.
- Paul McMullen
The third quarterback taken in the 2002 draft, Patrick Ramsey was an afterthought almost from the beginning. A contract stalemate kept him out of the Washington Redskins' camp until August, and he was signed only after the team tried to trade him. By then, coach Steve Spurrier was reluctant to play Ramsey. Spurrier wanted to win with former Florida quarterbacks, alternating Shane Matthews with Danny Wuerffel until both proved incapable of leading the team.
In his second season, Ramsey was hampered by a lingering foot injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve in December. This year, in the coaching switch from Spurrier to Joe Gibbs, Ramsey took another step back.
Gibbs prefers proven veterans at the position; he demonstrated that in 1987 when starter Jay Schroeder got hurt, yielded the job to veteran Doug Williams and couldn't get it back in the stretch run of a Super Bowl season.
So, the Redskins opened the 2004 season with veteran Mark Brunell, 34, a proven winner, at quarterback and Ramsey on the bench. Brunell completed less than 50 percent of his passes, and the offense never scored more than 18 points. In Week 11 at Philadelphia, Gibbs finally conceded the obvious and installed Ramsey as starter.
At 25, Ramsey is the team's future. Although he has thrown a career-high 10 interceptions in six starts, he has completed a career-best 61.8 percent. Coming off a strong arm, that is a good place for Gibbs' latest quarterback project to start. Given the benefit of Gibbs' tutoring and a full offseason to grasp the evolving offense, Ramsey should be able to elevate the Redskins to legitimate contender in the weak NFC next season. Remember, Gibbs won a Super Bowl with Mark Rypien, too.
- Ken Murray
You could argue that Ted Ginn Jr. has already had his breakout season -- this year. As a freshman at Ohio State, Ginn returned four punts for touchdowns and led the nation with a 26.9-yard average on punt returns. But what could make Ginn the Reggie Bush of 2005 is that he has barely scratched the surface of his potential.
Ginn, also a member of Ohio State's track team, is probably the fastest player in the country. He was recruited by the Buckeyes as a defensive back, but coach Jim Tressel realized fairly early on that Ginn was too talented to keep off the field. In a 32-19 win at Michigan State, Ginn scored three ways (rushing, reception, return) and did it untouched each time. Against Michigan, Ginn's 82-yard punt return broke open the game for Ohio State, given the Buckeyes a 37-21 win over their hated rivals.
Ohio State's off-the-field problems still loom this offseason, and Tressel's conservative offense isn't designed to get the ball to his wide receivers often (Ginn caught just 19 passes this year), but Ginn is so fast and so talented, Ohio State will find more and more ways to get him the ball.
Look for the Buckeyes to use Ginn next year the way Notre Dame used Raghib Ismail in 1990, when Ismail nearly won the Heisman Trophy.
- Kevin Van Valkenburg
U.S. men have never reached the podium in Olympic luge singles competition. Tony Benshoof could change all that on Feb. 12, 2006, in Turin, Italy.
Going fast has never been a problem for Benshoof, at 86.6 mph the holder of the Guinness World Records luge speed record. However, he has had trouble putting down two consistent runs and keeping the competition out of his head.
A crushing 17th-place finish at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics means Benshoof has something to prove to himself.
Newfound maturity and the honing of his technical skills have pushed Benshoof, 29, to the upper tier of sliders. Over the past 18 months, he has improved to where there are, perhaps, only three sliders ahead of him: 2002 gold medalist Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, five-time Olympian Georg Hackl of Germany and World Cup leader Albert Demchenko of Russia.
Benshoof is capable of beating them all. Going into the World Cup holiday break, he is ranked third overall, with two silver-medal finishes.
The world championships are in mid-February at the Park City, Utah, track where he set the speed record and spends part of his training season. A medal would set the table for his feet-first Olympic run.
- Candus Thomson
Scoville Jenkins is so new to professional tennis, the ATP Web site doesn't even have his biographical information available.
But Jenkins, 18, a native of Atlanta, has had a wonderful year.
He turned pro in April, and then, thanks to a new rule that allows pros to play in junior tournaments for which they are age qualified, played and won the boys 18 singles title at the USTA National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.
That tournament is considered the most prestigious U.S. title in junior tennis, and he became the first African-American to win the title. He was also only the second African-American to reach the final, joining James Blake, the runner-up in 1997.
The victory also brought Jenkins a wild-card entry to the U.S. Open, where he played a first-round match on center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium against Andy Roddick.
Jenkins lost that match, but the experience will help in 2005, as he begins building his career in earnest.
A right-handed player, Jenkins is considered one of the hottest newcomers on the pro circuit. He began playing at age 7, introduced to the sport by his father. He has developed an aggressive game from a strong baseline position. He's not afraid to come to the net and he has a big serve.
Last summer, Jenkins was ranked No. 1,442. Since then, he has cut the number nearly in half. This month, he is No. 766 in the ATP Entry Rankings.
"I've moved up pretty fast," he said. "I have a list of goals for 2005, and winning a pro event is one of them."
- Sandra McKee
Fans who follow the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series know the name Travis Kvapil. Those who look only at NASCAR's top series -- the Nextel Cup -- will know it soon enough.
Kvapil, a 28-year-old from Janesville, Wis., won the truck series title in 2003. Last season, driving for Bang! Racing, owned by Marylander Alex Meskin, Kvapil drove the new Toyota Tundra and became the first driver to win in the foreign manufacturer's entry. In fact, driving for a brand new team and manufacturer, Kvapil won two races and finished eighth in points.
In 2005, Kvapil will step up into two new classes and pull double duty. He will continue to drive part-time for Bang!, but he will be in a Dodge this time and competing in the NASCAR Busch Series. At the same time, he will also drive full time for Roger Penske in Nextel Cup, in the No. 77 Dodge.
"I am looking forward to running part-time in the Busch Series with Bang! Racing," Kvapil said. "I know the additional seat time will help me in my chase for the Rookie of the Year in the Nextel Cup Series.
"I'm sure there will be a bit of a learning curve and things to get used to, but I want to win and I'll be disappointed if we don't."
- Sandra McKee
Your assignment, class, is to name the top four ranked golfers in the world. Even the most casual observer of the sport knows Tiger Woods has lost what seemed like an unbreakable hold on the game's top spot, passed this year not only by Vijay Singh, but Ernie Els as well.
So who's No. 4?
Here's a hint: He's a 35-year-old South African who has long toiled in the shadow of Els and nearly anyone else mentioned among the game's top players. Here's another hint: His name is Retief Goosen.
Even when Goosen has made an impact on the game's worldwide stage by winning a pair of U.S. Open championships, first at Southern Hills in 2001 and at Shinnecock Hills this year, it seemed to be overshadowed.
Goosen's first Open title, in a playoff over Mark Brooks, came as the sports world was digesting Cal Ripken's disclosure that he was retiring from the Orioles.
The second Open win was treated as an afterthought because Mickelson's triple bogey on the 71st hole of regulation ended his chance of winning half the Grand Slam.
Though Goosen still has ground to make up in trying to pass the three players ranked ahead of him, Singh proved last year that it can be done. If that happens, Goosen might even get noticed.
- Don Markus
Currently, he is only allowed to practice with the Tigers, because he must sit out a season after transferring from Loyola, Ill. But by next season, redshirt junior guard Terrance Whiters could be teaming with point guard Cantrell Fletcher to make the Towson backcourt the best in the area.
Whiters, 5 feet 10, 165 pounds, is a Baltimore native who played at Laurinburg Institute Prep, where he once scored 50 points in a game and helped the school to a No. 15 ranking nationally. He also played for the AAU Celtics on the same squad as current NBA players Amare Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns), Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks) and Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic).
At Loyola, Ill., Whiters played both guard positions and started 14 games over a two-year period. He averaged 23 minutes while appearing in 51 games. Both years, he was second on the team in steals. He ranked third on the team in scoring (10.4) as a sophomore, when he also was the team's best three-point shooter.
"Terrance and Cantrell are going to be on the floor together a lot," Kennedy said. "And that is going to cause people a lot of problems."
- Gary Lambrecht
What Funny Cide did for New York in 2003 and what Smarty Jones did for Pennsylvania in 2004, Declan's Moon could do for Maryland in 2005. The 4-0 Maryland-bred thoroughbred is already one of the top contenders for the spring's Triple Crown series. He will surely be voted the outstanding 2-year-old male for 2004.
Funny Cide was a New York-bred, and Smarty Jones was a Pennsylvania-bred. They both captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before losing the Belmont and a chance at racing immortality by sweeping the Triple Crown. But because of their interesting human connections, they became national sensations and raised the awareness of racing in their states. Many people in racing believe that without Smarty Jones, the Pennsylvania legislature would not have legalized slot machines in 2004, which could transform the state into the region's racing kingpin.
Declan's Moon could do the same for Maryland, although it won't be as easy because he's stabled in California. The people associated with Declan's Moon have stories to tell. Brice Ridgely, who bred Declan's Moon, raises cattle and horses with his wife, Mary Anne, at their farm in Howard County. They bought Vee Vee Star, the eventual dam of Declan's Moon, when she was a thin yearling for a mere $3,500--- because Mary Anne, according to Brice, has a "soft heart." Vee Vee Star, whom the Ridgelys still own, is now worth more than $1 million.
Malibu Moon, the sire of Declan's Moon, stood his first four seasons at the family owned and operated Country Life Farm near Bel Air. His first runners proved so successful that he was relocated to Kentucky, where the country's first-string stallions stand. The Ridgelys sold Declan's Moon as a yearling for $125,000 at a thoroughbred auction at Timonium. Prominent horse owners from California bought him and turned him over to Ron Ellis, a media-friendly trainer in southern California.
- Tom Keyser
Because Reeves Craig played on a Division III team with a losing record last spring, his achievements as Goucher men's lacrosse goalkeeper did not draw much fanfare.
That might not be the case this spring, when Craig plays his final season at Goucher. As a junior, he became the first two-time lacrosse All-American in school history, when he broke the school record for save percentage (.712) and ranked ninth in the nation among Division III goalies with a goals-against average of 6.91 for the 7-8 Gophers.
Craig, who is from San Antonio, earned the school's first All-America recognition as a sophomore, then began his junior season by making a career-high 34 saves against Virginia Wesleyan. He went to become an honorable mention All-American for the second time.
Although it's hard to envision Goucher getting past powerhouse Salisbury in the Capital Athletic Conference -- the Gophers lost to the eventual national champion in last year's tournament semifinals, 11-5 -- at least Craig figures to keep them in most games. His 22-save effort helped keep unbeaten Salisbury at bay for a while.
Craig has been named a preseason first-team All-American by Inside Lacrosse magazine.
- Gary Lambrecht
At 6 feet 1 and 205 pounds, John Barry Nusum is one substantial target man, positioned in front of the goal, ready to receive the ball and dish to an approaching teammate or spin and blast the ball toward the goal mouth. It is a point he is proving in this, his rookie season in the Major Indoor Soccer League, and a point he should continue to drive home in 2005.
Nusum, 23, is the son of Bermuda native John Nusum. As Blast general manager Kevin Healey said, when remembering Nusum's dad, "He comes from good genes."
The elder Nusum played for Philadelphia Textile, now Philadelphia University, when Healey played for rival Loyola College. John Nusum went on to play five years of pro soccer in the MISL and the outdoor North American Soccer League.
John Barry starred at Furman University. He holds that school's records for points (161) and goals (61) and is one of just 22 players in NCAA history to earn three first-team All-America honors. He was taken by the Columbus Crew in the Major League Soccer draft in 2002, but when that didn't work out, he came to training camp with the Philadelphia KiXX, who signed him as a free agent.
Until this season, he had never played indoor soccer.
"I'm playing on pure talent right now," Nusum said. "I need to improve my knowledge of the game, and then I'll be all right." To date, he has 14 goals, which ties him for the goal-scoring lead in the league. He is also tied for second place in point scoring with 21.
"He's got a big body and he's a natural target man," said his KiXX coach, Don D'Ambra. "You never know what outdoor opportunities are going to come, but he is very comfortable here, with his back to the goal, and I can see him playing here with great success for a long time."
- Sandra McKee
When you are named the High School Women's Athlete of the Year for indoor track by Track & Field News and viewed by many observers as a candidate to represent the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, that's a lot to live up to.
But for Towson Catholic sophomore Devon Williams, remembering the past and anticipating the future pale in comparison to living in the present.
"I just try to go out there and run as fast as I can," the 15-year-old said recently. "It's a new year. I have to prove myself."
After she set a national record in the 500-meter event and three national freshman records last winter, expect Williams to do more of the same this year.
At the Metropolitan Athletic Congress High School Classic in New York on Dec. 12, Williams -- who is still battling a sore knee -- easily won the 300 in 39.12 seconds and the 600 in 1 minute, 31.82 seconds. Her time in the 600 is just 1.6 seconds off the national freshman record she posted at the same meet last January.
Williams, who once completed a 1,500-meter race in 5:01 at age 8, is considered to have a legitimate shot at making the U.S. team that will compete at the 2008 Olympics. But for now, her goals are a tad less lofty.
"I want to go under 2:04 in the 800," she said. "And I want my sister [Rokesha, a senior at Towson Catholic] and me to make the All-Metro team again."
- Edward Lee
Your search for 2005's local high school basketball phenom begins and ends with Le Shon Edwards.
"Right now, Le Shon is it. He's simply a man among boys," says local hoops guru and AAU coach Scottie Bowden, who has worked with the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony. "If he continues to develop as most expect him to, he'll easily be a high Division I prospect if not a professional player."
At this past summer's Adidas Jr. Phenom Camp in San Diego, the versatile 6-foot-4, 175-pound player emerged as the nation's No. 1-rated seventh-grader. Now 14, Edwards is a B-plus eighth-grader at New All Saints.
"I know [professional basketball] can be in my future after college if I keep working hard on the court and classroom," Edwards said. "I love the attention -- I can't lie about it."
The high-scoring, high-flying Edwards lands next fall at St. Frances -- winner of an intense recruiting battle that included Archbishop Curley, Archbishop Spalding, Boys' Latin, DeMatha, Mount St. Joseph and even a private school in Florida.
- Lem Satterfield