NEXT LAUNCHING PADS
Finding talent is one thing. Knowing what to do with it-well, that's a whole different story. From golfers to goalies, midfielders to outfielders, the long road to glory has many on-ramps
STARS AND STRIKERS: USA
For the next incubator of male soccer talent, we bring you ... the U.S. of A. No, we're not giddy from that No. 4 finish in the Under-17 World Cup. Thanks to a program called Project-40, America's best young ones finally have a chance to keep pace with the rest of the planet. Maybe you've noticed: Each time the real Cup rolls around, U.S. men find themselves facing teams more experienced and younger. That's because foreign prodigies enter the pros at 17 while America's best prospects enter the NCAA, which limits their games and practice hours. Project-40, created by Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation in '97, offers an alternative. It identifies our top 40 or so amateurs, guarantees the MLS minimum ($24,000) for the first year-plus tuition money down the road-then assigns them to an MLS club. Those who don't get the minutes see action with the Pro-40 Select team in the second-tier A-League. Off-season, some train overseas with big-time clubs like Manchester United and AC Milan. With the MLS draft offering no such guarantees, UVa. star Ben Olsen and South Carolina's Josh Wolff took the Pro-40 carrot as juniors. Olsen was '98 MLS Rookie of the Year for D.C. United; Wolff raised the MLS and U.S. Open Cup trophies with the Chicago Fire that year. But the true measure of Project-40 lies with teens. The Beasley brothers of Fort Wayne, Ind.-Jamar (right), 20, a forward, and DaMarcus, 17, a midfielder-were the first high school recruits. Jamar plays with the New England Revolution; DaMarcus reports to L.A.'s Galaxy after graduation in June. "I want to see how far I can go," says DaMarcus, who earned the Silver Ball as the second-best player at the U-17 World Cup (behind teammate and German pro Landon Donovan). "The only way to do that is to see how I stand up against the best in the world." -Jeff Bradley
PUCKSTOPPERS ON PARADE: QUEBEC
Can a single drop of water start a river? Ask Patrick Roy. Since the Quebec City native took the NHL by storm in 1986-winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie netminder with the Canadiens-a flood of goalies has poured from the province. Last season, 18 goaltending graduates of the Quebec Midget AAA League (ages 15-16) found crease space on NHL rosters. Montreal-Bourassa, which competes in the same league, has produced a stream of NHL goalies that includes Stephane Fiset, Felix Potvin, Martin Brodeur, Eric Fichaud, Jean-Sebastien Aubin and 20-year-old Roberto Luongo (page 81). Not bad, eh? "Roy is the one who started the whole phenomenon of the Quebec League goalie," says Roland Faubert of the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. Roy came out of a high-scoring culture where goalies were virtually an afterthought. "After he made it big, all the kids wanted to be like Patrick." As Roy's star ascended over hockey-mad Montreal (he's now with Colorado), Quebec goalie schools spilled over with young talents who might have previously idolized graceful snipers like Guy Lafleur. These mini-netminders were taught the principles of Roy's butterfly style by, among others, Fran«ois Allaire, his goaltending coach with Montreal. Allaire, who now works for Anaheim, preaches a percentage game designed to take away the bottom of the net by fanning out the leg pads. Today, all Quebec-born goalies incorporate some form of the butterfly into their approach. And yes, the frozen pond is still stocked with prospects. While the Flyers were scooping up 18-year-old Maxime Ouellet in last June's entry draft, the scouts were already raving about 16-year-old Pascal Leclaire, who'll be draft-eligible in 2001. At age 34, old man Roy is still one of the best. But the pipeline he primed should keep right on flowing well past his retirement. -E.J. Hradek
SWEDE SPOT: PERSTORP,, SWEDEDN
A breeding ground for world-class golfers has got to be a place where you can tee it up year-round, right? Where the only things that threaten course conditions are too much sun and too many divots, right? Wrong. Imagine Minnesota, with subzero winters, soggy springs and too-short summers. Now subtract about 100 of the state's 470 golf courses, then double its population to roughly nine million, so it's just about impossible to get a tee time. Welcome to Sweden. Land of some of the purest ball-strikers and smoothest putters on the planet. Home to Annika Sorenstam, Jesper Parnevik and up-and-comers like Christopher Hanell and Maria Hjorth, who'll arrive on the U.S. tours sooner than later. How can this be? Well, it's got a lot more to do with psychology than meteorology. "Golf is perfect for Swedes," says Pia Nilsson, former national team coach for the Swedish Golf Federation. "We like to be outside." For most natives, golf is the equivalent of a nature walk or an afternoon of cross-country skiing-a simple leisure-time activity, not a compulsion that pushes people to the edge of their frustration threshold. Players learn the basics on four- and five-hole courses carved out of farmland. If they aspire to play 18 holes on a champion ship course, they must first obtain a green card by passing a skills test and a written exam. And if they can't shoot a round in the low 100s, they have to keep practicing until they can. Youngsters with pro potential are recruited to Perstorp, home of Sweden's "golf gymnasium," where they receive a high school education and advanced instruction that includes strength conditioning, nutrition tips and even meditation. During the long winter, they focus on nothing but swing mechanics. When the ground begins to thaw, though, watch out. "On the course," Nilsson says, "we're interested only in scores." -J. B.
DUTCHBOYS OF SUMMER: AMSTERDAM
Baseball was invented in New York, and New York was invented by the Dutch. So, in keeping with the what-goes-around-comes-around nature of things, baseball is now looking to Holland for talent. The Montreal Expos' Amsterdam baseball academy, opened in November '98, is the largest MLB outpost in Europe. The 300-man roster includes three Dutchmen with U.S. minor league experience: 3B and prize pupil Vince Rooi, SS/OF Danny Rombley and 2B Tim Van Pareren. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Marlins and Mariners are all expanding their Netherlands presence faster than you can say Bert Blyleven. "You simply have to cover all corners of the globe," says Fred Ferreira, Montreal's director of international scouting. "The Holland system is very well organized, they have good coaching and they speak English. It's an ideal situation for scouting European talent." The Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Association, founded in 1911, currently boasts more than 22,000 players, ranging from 7-year-old peanuts to members of the 10-team Senior Division, a semipro circuit that includes the Amsterdam Expos. "What makes Holland so intriguing is its connection to the Caribbean," says Mets international scouting director Omar Minaya, alluding to the string of islands known as the Antilles (including Andruw Jones' native Cura«ao). While the majority of Senior Division players are Dutch-born, many learned the game in the islands, then left as teens to hone their skills in Holland. Others, like Rooi, are descendants of Caribbean immigrants. Which brings us back to our little history lesson. When the Brits first came to New York (nçe New Amsterdam), they derisively referred to the Dutch settlers as Jan-Kees, two common first names. The term hung around, and in 1913 it was attached-with Americanized spelling-to a certain club that now plays in the Bronx. In other words, it's only a matter of time before someone named Jan is pitching in pinstripes. -Brendan O'Connor
Dereck Whittenburg was more than a little skeptical. The former N.C. State star had heard stories of all-night jam sessions in the old K-mart down on Atlanta's Stewart Ave. So one night around 2 a.m., he decided to check it out for himself. "I was shocked," he says. "That place was packed." In a city crawling with hoops talent, the Run 'N Shoot Athletic Center has become a mecca for roundball junkies, playground legends and millionaire pros. "In the summer, probably 20% of the NBA stays in Atlanta," Whittenburg says. "Run 'N Shoot is a place for them." LSU senior Jabari Smith, a 6'11" center and potential first-round draft pick, "practically grew up here," says RNS program director Woody Garrett. Same goes for Keisha Brown, a junior guard for the Georgia women's team and the National Prep Player of the Year back in '96. Opened in 1993, RNS features seven full courts and the sweet sound of bouncing balls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On any given July night, it's not uncommon to see Stephon Marbury, Jerry Stackhouse, Darrell Armstrong or Sharif Abdur-Rahim breaking out new moves-or "Killer" Berry, a thirtysomething Atlanta asphalt god, showing somebody up with old ones. Last summer, RNS began creating youth programs and clinics to help cultivate some of the raw goods drawn in by the NBA crowd. The hometown Hawks and the Harlem Globetrotters also sponsored camps. Next summer, the facility will host five AAU tourneys, and Nike is on board for the third week of June. Best of all: You can shoot yourself silly for just six bucks a visit. 'Cuz while you may get run off the court, you won't get run out of the gym. -Bruce Feldman
ROUGH RIDERS: LAGUNA BEACH, CALIF.
Wanna bump tires with the best? Take a spin down Telonics Trail in Laguna Beach, Calif. The place is a magnet for elite mountain bikers Hans Rey (right) and Britain's Steve Peat, who makes an annual winter pilgrimage to the area. "The weather keeps you motivated," says Peat, the '99 World Cup downhill silver medalist. "Every day is 80_ and sunny." The weather is a big reason why Laguna has become a hot spot for the bike industry, but it's hardly the only reason. For starters, the scenery rocks. Located in Aliso & Wood Canyons Regional Park, Telonics winds 1÷ miles down a tricky path filled with steep descents and sharp turns, ending within walking distance of the ocean. Then there's the convenience. Thanks to a paved road leading to the top, a round-trip takes less than 20 minutes: three down by bike, 15 back up by car-and, yes, there's usually someone willing to give you a lift. "It's so accessible," says Leigh Donovan (center), a local resident and three-time medalist at the World Mountain Bike Championships. Although shorter than the trails used for top competitions, Telonics offers plenty of chances to test equipment and grab a 50-mph buzz. "You can see how your bike handles at high speeds, check your brakes and suspension, then reset and try another run," says Eric Carter, another local dweller and the '99 U.S. national downhill champ. On any given weekday, you might find 20 or more riders on Telonics. The whole park has grown so popular (there are dozens of other trails) that many regulars try to downplay the hype. But Donovan can't help herself. "Telonics is one of those trails that never gets old," she says. "Each ride down is a new adventure." -Shelly Gepfert
QB HIGH: NEWHALL, CALIF.
Some quarterbacks are born, but most are made-and the QB factory of the moment is Hart High in Newhall, Calif. By 2001, as many as four Hart grads could be barking signals in Division I, with a fifth on the way. Two of those prodigies-Nevada soph David Neill and Cal frosh Kyle Boller-already start. Another, Steve McKeon, should challenge for Army's QB job next fall after returning from a Mormon mission. Hart's current golden boy, junior Kyle Matter (left), is on pace to rewrite the school record books. And strong-armed soph Matt Moore might be the best of the bunch, says Hart offensive coordinator Dean Herrington. The buzz in the San Fernando Valley is so loud that Herrington and older brother Mike, the Indians' head coach, are constantly fielding calls from parents asking if little Johnny can transfer over. But becoming the next Elway requires a lot of sacrifice. "The No.1 quality we want is toughness in the pocket," Dean says. His guys practice throwing with a tackler hanging on their legs, then get whacked in the chest with a blocking pad while releasing the ball. "From the start of two-a-days, our quarterbacks are live. We never baby 'em." Piloting the Hart offense, a variation of the Run n' Shoot, is a yearlong gig. After the season ends, QBs hit the weights and work with receivers on patterns. May means spring football-basically an excuse to squeeze in more coaching before school ends and the real fun begins: 7-on-7 games six days a week all summer. About the only thing a Hart passer won't see is one of those QB tutors who've become so popular on the West Coast. They're off-limits. "We want these kids to learn things our way," Dean says. And considering the school's string of 14 consecutive All-Southern Section quarterbacks, who can argue? -B. F.
SWEET-SHOOTIN' SHEILAS: CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA
When it comes to women's hoops, Australia's got next. And we don't mean homecourt at the Sydney Olympics. Eight Aussies played in the WNBA last summer, the most from any foreign country. And the Aussie national team has gone from Olympic nonqualifier in '92 to bronze medalist in '96 to gold digger in '00. Much of the credit goes to Basketball Australia, the government body that organizes the sport from the local to the national stages, annually providing 200 teenage girls in nine regions with individual instruction through its Intensive Training Centre Program. Basketball Australia has actually been around since 1946. But the turning point came in 1981, with the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport, a facility in Canberra that houses and develops the country's best young athletes. Based on recommendations from Basketball Australia coaches, AIS trains up to a dozen female hoopsters between the ages of 16 and 18 each year. "Most of us on the '92 national squad hadn't learned to play through the organized system that exists today," says Phoenix Mercury guard and Aussie native Michele Timms. "It was around when we were growing up, but it was growing too." All but four of the 18 players on the current national team came from AIS, including Detroit Shock All-Star guard Sandy Brondello and 18-year-old Lauren Jackson, a 6'5" center and reigning MVP of Australia's eight-team Women's National Basketball League. Jackson averaged 23 ppg and 12 rpg while leading AIS to the WNBL title last season. Now a member of the Canberra Capi tals (look for her stateside in 2001), she has an endorsement deal with Nike and the kind of talent that generates huge expectations. "Lauren will be the Michael Jordan of women's basketball," Timms predicts. "She's better than Chamique Holdsclaw and she's still developing." Right along with the rest of her mates. -S. G.