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NEXT ONES: 2006

Before the calendar runs out, this year’s class will defy gravity, make millions and prove you’re never too old to be NEXT.

By Elena Bergeron


BARBARA ST. HILAIRE

She’s 70, and she thinks knitting is lame. That’s because the Cleveland-area retiree has been hustling kids on the controllers since the 70s, when she got hooked on Pong between frames in her bowling league. “Grandma kicks my ass at Outlaw Golf 2,” says her 22-year-old grandson, Timothy, who blogs about her exploits. Old Grandma Hardcore (as she’s known online) has conquered every console since Atari, but this year she goes big-time, reviewing games as, yes, senior correspondent for the MTV Overdrive show The G-Hole. The gray gamer hopes to inspire other biddies to take up a Rumble Pack. The 50-plus set already accounts for 19% of players, and studies show that gamers 60 and older have better reaction time and higher self-esteem than their idle peers. As OGH puts it, “Who’s got more time on their hands than us?”

 


PHIL KESSEL

Take a good look. You don’t get many chances to gawk at a solo shot of U.S. hockey’s future. Kessel, an 18-year-old freshman forward at Minnesota, would rather hide among teammates off the ice, even as his game stands out. In 2002, he scored 176 goals for his U-14 bantam club. “He’s fast, and that’s what you see first,” says Gophers coach Don Lucia. “But his hands are a rare gift.” The six-foot, 190-pound Kessel dazzled with end-to-end rushes at the 2005 World Juniors and netted a hat trick in the semis. Although he was slowed at this year’s tourney - the guy draws a crowd - NHL scouts see only upside. “He’s got Paul Kariya’s speed and Brett Hull’s scoring ability,” says one evaluator. Which is why the pride and joy of Madison, Wis., could become just the fifth American-born player taken No. 1 in the NHL draft. And good luck hiding then.

 


ROB LORIFICE

Who’d have thought geezers would rule the X Games? It’s true: not counting best buds Lorifice (17) and Shaun White (19), the average age of vert skaters at Summer X was a practically ancient 30. So when Lorifice landed a varial frontside 360 into a varial indy 360 over the 70-foot gap, he was the only teen to make the finals, finishing fifth overall. “Damn,” he says, “I remember watching all these guys as a kid. Now I’m here with them!” Though he sounds like an awestruck fan, Lorifice has a veteran’s cred. A skater since he was 6, he’s been honing his skills since age 9 on the eight-foot ramp his dad built in their backyard in San Antonio. His latest mission? “I’m working on landing 720s.” At the rate he’s going, the trick should be old hat in no time.

 


AI MIYAZATO

When Annika Sorenstam first watched this 5'2" dynamo at a 2004 exhibition match in Japan, she saw a smooth-swinging teen uncorking 250-yard drives. When she saw Miyazato again in March 2005, Sorenstam did a double-take. “She is a lot longer now than I remember,” Annika marveled. Around 20 yards longer. But it’s Miyazato’s retooled short game that has really attracted attention. In December, she torched the Q-school field, including teen queen Morgan Pressel, by a record 12 strokes - raising speculation that she’ll make more than a Wie-size splash on the Tour. Miyazato’s favorite part of the week: shopping without a disguise. That’s something the 20-year-old “Ai-chan” can’t do in her native Japan, where she made $5 million in endorsements last year. Now, with Miyazato set for her first full season on the U.S. Tour, Sorenstam need only look at the leader board to check on the youngster’s progress.

 


RUDY GAY

“I want a championship here, and I want to be a complete player,” says the 19-year-old UConn sophomore. Oh, is that all? Actually, with his 41-inch vert and 20-foot shooting range, all Gay needs is some work on his handle to become a franchise-toting force. As it is, his versatility has NBA teams salivating over the 6'9" point forward. “He’s slick,” says a scout whose club has a lottery pick. “He’s got so many moves, he can get a shot however he wants.” If Gay keeps working to get what he wants, no doubt he’ll be the league’s most wanted come June.

 


MATT SCHAUB

When Atlanta’s Michael Vick went down with a knee injury against Minnesota in October, the NFL found out that Schaub isn’t exactly sloppy seconds. The 24-year-old backup polished off the Vikings, then nearly took out the Pats with a 298-yard, 3-TD performance in his only start. Schaub may be “gangly and long-legged,” as Falcons GM Rich McKay says, but he has a cannon arm and a feel for the pocket. The second-year QB completed 33 of his 64 passes this season, with 39% of those hookups going for more than 15 yards. Schaub’s success means McKay’s phone lines will stay warm. If the Falcons want to leverage their hand, look for them to make a trade in the off-season, before Schaub becomes a free agent in 2007. Either way, it wont be long before the 6'5" signal-caller is running his own show.