Genie Bouchard, Marlon Humphrey & Jahlil Okafor top our list of athletes who will soon take over the world.
“Genie’s Army” is growing. The 20-year-old Montreal native is charging the net with an intimidating arsenal of on-court talent, outside-the-lines charisma and legions of devoted fans, of both the English- and French-speaking variety.
The sky is the limit for Bouchard, whose meteoric rise continues to amaze and inspire more than just tennis claps from onlookers. The 2012 junior Wimbledon champion climbed from No. 147 in the Women’s Tennis Association world rankings all the way up to No. 16 as of late May. Bouchard was also named the 2013 WTA Newcomer of the Year, an award previously won by international tennis sensations such as Venus and Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki.
On and off the court, “Genie” is Nike’s latest golden girl, as one of the few players on the WTA wearing the Sharapova-designed line of tennis gear. It is Sharapova whose lead Bouchard is attempting to follow. Sharapova is one of six women in Open Era history to complete the career Grand Slam. Equally impressive, Sharapova has leveraged her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue good looks as a spokesmodel for companies such as Motorola, Land Rover, Canon, Gatorade, Tropicana and Nike — with whom she inked an eight-year, $70 million contract renewal in 2010. Like Sharapova before her, Bouchard is a long-legged (5'10") blonde beauty with a multi-million-dollar smile, contagious personality and grand slam game.
“I think she is very rare, let’s put it that way,” says Bouchard’s agent, Sam Duvall, at this year’s Australian Open. “I really think she has the ability to be more marketable than Maria (Sharapova). Maria was Genie’s idol when she was younger, but now they’re competitors. But if Maria is the bar, Genie has the ability to exceed the bar. She has to perform on the court to do that, and Genie knows that. Maria has won four slams. Her marketability, if she performs, I have to say is better than anyone on tour. She is the total package.”
At this year’s Australian Open, Bouchard was the first Canadian to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam event since Carling Bassett’s U.S. Open run in 1984. She has also set the Internet ablaze by playing an exhibition match against Sharapova’s boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on a floating court off the shore of Acapulco, Mexico, and snapping a selfie on Twitter with Pope Francis in the background cruising the streets of Rome. Wherever she goes, Genie steals the show.
“She’s got the personality, she’s got the game, she’s got the looks. She speaks two languages, and the crossover appeal is great,” says Duvall. “Marketability wise, I think she can be the most famous tennis player in the world.”
With three national championships in the last five years, Alabama coach Nick Saban has rebuilt a football factory in Tuscaloosa that would inspire a tip of the houndstooth fedora from Bear Bryant himself. As a result, it takes time for even the most decorated recruit to earn playing time. But Marlon Humphrey is not the average five-star recruit, and he’s not very concerned with his own star rankings or press clippings.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a one-star or a five-star. Whoever comes in and does what they’re supposed to do will find their way onto the field,” says Humphrey, a 6'1", 185-pound cornerback who does not turn 18 years old until July.
In addition to being the most accomplished football recruit in the state of Alabama, Humphrey is also a world-renowned track star with a résumé that includes a total of seven Alabama state championships as well as the silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2013 World Youth Championships in Athletics in Donetsk, Ukraine.
On the gridiron, Humphrey is both a Crimson Tide legacy and Alabama high school football royalty, as the son of former Bama running back Bobby Humphrey and a three-time Class 6A all-state selection for back-to-back undefeated state champion Hoover High School — a powerhouse program made even more famous by MTV’s reality show “Two-A-Days.”
Humphrey is hoping to continue his run of championships at the next level, for both Saban and track coach Dan Waters. And there’s a good chance the two-sport star hits the ground running once he steps foot on campus.
“My dad played at Alabama. That’s real cool to me. But when I made my decision I didn’t really think of following him in his footsteps. I just saw it as another school,” says Humphrey.
“I picked the University of Alabama because when it came down to my options, that was the best place that would fit me and that I thought could propel me to a very successful future.”
When most people talk about the “next Jordan,” they’re referring to a high-flying, tongue-wagging two-guard reminiscent of Michael Jordan. But to those wearing burnt orange on golf courses near the University of Texas, the label “next Jordan” is all about Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old former Longhorns golfer who was also runner-up at this year’s Masters Tournament.
In 17-year-old Dallas native Scottie Scheffler, Texas golf coach John Fields may very well have the “next Jordan” coming to Austin this fall. Scheffler is the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion, Rolex Junior Player of the Year and the consensus No. 1-ranked golf recruit in the nation.
A product of famed Highland Park High School — where both MLB’s Clayton Kershaw and the NFL’s Matthew Stafford attended in recent years — Scheffler recently tested his game against the best on the PGA Tour at this year’s HP Byron Nelson Championship at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas. Scheffler carded an impressive 4-under-276 over four days, a finish good for 22nd and a $64,055 check he can’t cash if he wants to retain amateur status and play for the Longhorns next season.
“Jordan (Spieth) told me I would be mad when I get down to Austin next year and I don’t have any money,” joked Scheffler, following the HP Byron Nelson Championship. “I guess I’ll be mad then. I’m not too upset now.”
Who says you can’t go home again? Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski, a native son of Chicago, has owned the Windy City lately, despite residing in Durham, N.C., among the Cameron Crazies of Krzyzewskiville. Last year, Coach K brought Simeon High School’s Jabari Parker from Chi-town to K-Ville. This year, he’s done it again.
Whitney Young High School’s Jahlil Okafor is bringing his 6'10", 280-pound frame to Duke, along with a trophy case that must be just as big — as the USA Today National Player of the Year, Illinois Mr. Basketball, Chicago Public League champion, McDonald’s All-American Game co-MVP, Jordan Brand Classic co-MVP and 2012 FIBA U-17 World Championship MVP.
Okafor anchors a recruiting class that is easily the best Duke has landed in the one-and-done era, including Minnesota point guard Tyus Jones, Texas forward Justise Winslow and Florida wing Grayson Allen. But it is Okafor, the top player in the Class of 2014, who has fans most excited. Although there has been a seemingly endless line of Plumlee brothers, the Blue Devils have never recruited a big man with Okafor’s potential — as the leading candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood, Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw are just a few of the famous flame-throwers who have taken their Texas heat to torch the big leagues. That group of Lone Star State aces is about to be joined by 6'5", 250-pound 18-year-old Tyler Kolek, a right-handed hoss who hails from Shepherd, Texas, and boasts a fastball that has been lighting up radar guns at over 100 mph every time he’s taken the mound this year.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, but even local scouts think Kolek may have the biggest arm the state has seen since Nolan Ryan — MLB’s all-time strikeouts leader (5,714) and current advisor to the Houston Astros, owners of the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. But radar guns were not dotting the stands when Ryan was dominating his East Texas competition at Alvin High School as a senior in 1965. “The Ryan Express” was merely a Texas tall tale before his 27-year MLB career cemented his icon status.
Unlike Ryan some 50 years ago, Kolek has been under the microscope of the modern era — poked, prodded and analyzed by every piece of technology and advanced metric known to man and Sabermetrician alike. A recent Baseball America scouting report compares Kolek to Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg, drawing the conclusion that the young gun “has established himself as the hardest-throwing prep pitcher in draft history.”
“Young Moolah, baby!” For 20-year-old skateboarder Chaz Ortiz, it’s good to have a fan who has fans. Ortiz’s No. 1 supporter is rapper Lil Wayne, a platinum recording artist and amateur skateboarder who rode his board to the stage during a performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.
In addition to sponsors like Zoo York and Gatorade, Ortiz was signed by Lil Wayne’s Spectre by Supra shoe line and is quickly becoming one of the prominent faces of skate culture. And who knows? If Ortiz keeps up the good work landing tricks on the half-pipe, he might just land a name-drop from his most famous corporate sponsor on the mic.