On the rise: Predicting which athletes will become sports’ biggest stars in next decade

Serena. LeBron. Messi. Brady. 

Only one name is required — last, first, a nickname — to know who is being discussed. That's what happens when an athlete not only rises to the top of his or her sport, but transcends the sports landscape on the way to becoming a superstar. 

With the 2010s bound for the rear-view mirror by month's end, USA TODAY Sports is ranking the top athletes across sports from the decade that was.

Here, though, we break out the prediction books and take a look at which athletes will reach a level so that only one name is required to know who you're talking about. 

Best of the decade:US women end 2010s where they started it, as world's best

Top NBA Finals moments:LeBron James' first title, Ray Allen's crazy 3-pointer top list

Evaluating coaches:No one was better than Alabama's Nick Saban

Luka Doncic (NBA)

The Dallas Mavericks' point man is a 20-year-old MVP candidate in 2019-20. He'd become the youngest player ever to win the award if he keeps up this blistering pace where he's nearly averaging a triple-double (29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game). Doncic is already placing himself in the record books before the next decade can begin, joining LeBron James as the lone players in NBA history to have multiple outings with at least 40 points and 10 assists before their 21st birthday, according to ESPN Stats & Info.  

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is on his way to becoming one of the best players in the NBA.
 

Cori 'Coco' Gauff (women's tennis)

Hardly anyone knew who 15-year-old Gauff was before this past summer's Wimbledon performance that saw her stun Venus Williams in the first round and reach the fourth round. Gauff followed up with a solid U.S. Open performance in getting to the third round. Gauff's resiliency will take her far. The scary part is that by the end of the next decade, she'll only be 25 and still poised to dominate the sport if she blossoms the way experts believe she will.   

Caeleb Dressel (Olympic swimming)

Dressel is the face of the next era of swimming expected to star in the 2020 Tokyo Games. The 23-year-old won a record eight medals, including six gold, at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, South Korea. The two-time Olympic gold medalist (he won two relays in his Olympic debut at Rio) currently holds the world record in the 100-meter butterfly. He also holds American records in 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle and in 50-meter and 100-meter butterfly (all long course). 

Noah Lyles (Olympic track and field)

Lyles has been branded as the next great sprinter following in Usain Bolt footsteps, and his personal-best times of 9.86 in the 100 meters and 19.50 in the 200 meters aren't far off Bolt's world record person best. The 22-year-old holds the indoor world record in the 300-meters and he handily won gold in the 200-meter at the 2019 World Championships.  

Patrick Mahomes (NFL)

A modern-day gunslinger who exhibits almost zero of the negative qualities that come with such a label, Mahomes' first two full seasons in the league have put him on a Hall of Fame path. His name appearing on this list may seem like a slight since he's well on his way to becoming the face of the NFL with an MVP trophy already. At 24, Mahomes will be a fixture on Sundays for a long time. Throw in what should be a few opportunities to hoist a Lombardi Trophy, and Mahomes could be entrenched in the GOAT debate by 2030. 

Juan Soto (MLB) 

Soto burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old rookie in 2018. His sophomore act was equally impressive, with a .949 OPS and 34 homers before he could legally drink in this country. Of course, the first time he drank in public was after he helped lead the Washington Nationals to the franchise’s first World Series title this past October. During the Fall Classic, the native of the Dominican Republic batted .333 with three homers. With a big smile and swagger in the batter’s box, he’s the ideal encapsulation of MLB’s “Let the kids play” mantra and primed to be the face of a sport that has lacked one. 

Rose Lavelle (women's soccer) 

Similar to Mahomes and Soto, Lavelle has already emerged as a household name after her role on the U.S. Women's 2019 World Cup squad. For her efforts during the tournament, which included the insurance goal in the title match, the 24-year-old was awarded the Bronze Ball as the third-best player. Lavelle's game is built on adroitness and speed. She can become a midfield stalwart for the national squad not unlike Megan Rapinoe, who at 34 took home the Golden Ball in France — providing Lavelle with a blueprint to reach the top of the sport. The growth of women's professional soccer in the U.S. will only help her popularity, too. 

Connor McDavid (NHL)

We searched long and hard to find an NHL player worth nominating outside of McDavid. But McDavid is still only 22 years old and it's easy to see him remaining the game's best player over the next ten years. The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL draft has reached 100 points in his three full seasons, earned three All-Star nods and won an MVP award. He has the chance to be among the all-time greats.

Zion Williamson (NBA)

We got a small sample size of Williamson in his lone college basketball season at Duke — a unanimous national player of the year campaign — but the No. 1 pick's NBA journey with the New Orleans Pelicans has been interrupted by an early-season injury. When healthy, expect Williamson to become one of the most electrifying athletes to watch with his highlight-reel slams and rare agility for his size. He also has a will to win. Don't just expect Williamson to be an All-Star, expect him to be contending for titles.   

Regan Smith (Olympic swimming)

Every four years, there's a new dynamo in the pool at the Summer Olympics. For example, Missy Franklin burst on the scene at the 2012 Games in London as a 17-year-old. Smith, 17, broke Franklin's 200-meter backstroke world record and won two gold medals at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, this year. Next year in Tokyo, bet on Smith being the name everyone is talking about by the closing ceremonies — and perhaps for the next Olympics or two. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo (NBA)

The 2018-19 MVP just turned 25 this December, which means he'll have another decade of All-Star seasons, barring injuries. Can the Greek Freak bring an NBA championship to Milwaukee? Antetokounmpo has surged into dominant form over the last few seasons and he's proving more and more that he hasn't reached his ceiling.  

Ansu Fati (men's soccer)

As the Messi-Ronaldo generation enters the twilight of their careers, international soccer already has some exciting young players poised to take the mantle. Among them is Fati, who was born in Guinea-Bissau but spent most of his life in Spain. The 17-year-old recently became an official Spanish citizen and currently plays on the wing for Barcelona. 

Dominic Thiem (men's tennis)

The 26-year-old Austrian is ranked No. 4 in the world and might've won several Grand Slams by now if the sport's big three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer weren't dominating. An aggressive baseline player who uses a mean single-handed backhand, Thiem is at the top of the list to ascend to the top of men's tennis this next decade when the big three (all in their 30s) finally show their age. He's reached the French Open final twice the last two years before losing to, guess who, 12-time champion Nadal.

Nyjah Huston (Olympic skateboarding)

If skateboarding is a hit in its debut at the Tokyo Olympics next summer (and Games to come) then Huston will have a lot to do with it as the gold medal favorite in men's street competition. Huston has been the overall champion at the Street League Skateboarding competition series in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019. The 25-year-old also has 12 Summer X Games gold medals. While Winter Olympics star Shaun White transcended snowboarding, Huston could do the same with skateboarding. The three-time world champion ranked No. 1 on the 2020 USA Skateboarding National Team heading into next summer. 

LaMelo Ball (NBA)

The youngest of the Ball brothers, LaMelo has the court vision of his older brother (Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball) and a superior jump shot and fearless will to score. That's why he's skyrocketed on mock draft boards to become the projected No. 1 pick next June while bypassing the standard one-and-done NCAA route. Ball has been drawing a plethora of NBA scouts to Australia, where he's been putting up triple-doubles.   

Sydney McLaughlin (women's track and field)

The American sprinter and hurdler was just 16 when she qualified for the 400-meter hurdles at the Rio Olympics, becoming the youngest athlete to make the track team in 26 years. Expect her to be in the gold medal conversation for years to come. She's an up-and-comer who just beat former Olympic champ Dalilah Muhammad this past June in the 400-meter hurdles. She finished right behind Muhammad in July to place silver at the 2019 world championships.  

Sydney McLaughlin shown on her way to winning the women's 4x400m Relay final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships 2019 at the Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar, in October.
 

Lamar Jackson (NFL) 

Indeed, Jackson's 2019 season that launched his MVP candidacy has caused those around the league to re-imagine the potential of the quarterback position. Only a select few can alter their arm angles for a variety of throws. Jackson can. No quarterback has rushed for more yards in a single season, and the Baltimore Ravens appear to have a perennial MVP candidate at QB 1. But Jackson has his eyes set on more important goals than individual awards — he wants Super Bowls. 

Becky Hammon (NBA coach)

Pau Gasol wrote for The Players' Tribune, "Becky Hammon can coach. I'm not saying she can coach pretty well. ... I'm saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA Basketball. Period." After a 16-year WNBA career, the six-time All-Star transitioned to the men's game on Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs staff in 2014. She's been an assistant there since, heading up the organization's Summer League team in 2015. Along the way, Hammon has clearly left a positive impression. When openings across the league come up, Hammon will certainly be considered. And don't be shocked if she makes history as the NBA's first female head coach. 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB) 

"Vladito" may not have the defensive prowess his Hall of Fame father consistently put on display in right field, but Guerrero Jr. may quickly become the most dangerous hitter in the game. He pulverizes baseballs with a soothingly smooth right-handed swing. The moonshots that explode off his bat are worth every second of hang time. At 20 years old, Guerrero Jr. should be piling up big numbers for a long time.

A'ja Wilson (WNBA)

The top overall pick in the 2018 draft out of South Carolina, Wilson lived up to expectations by averaging more than 20 points per game and capturing the rookie of the year honors. Last season, despite an injury, Wilson helped lead her Las Vegas Aces to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons before falling in the semifinals. 

Kyle 'Bugha' Giersdorf (Esports) 

As the decade progresses, esports' push into the mainstream of the sports universe will only continue. Giersdorf, 16, captured the inaugural Fortnite solo title earlier this year, with a $3 million prize attached. As money pours into the industry and interest from younger fans rises, players such as "Bugha" will become more recognizable.

SOURCE https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2019/12/17/luka-doncic-coco-gauff-patrick-mahomes-here-sports-next-stars/4291190002/
Pin It

Comments are closed.