The Best Athletes Born in the '90s

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2014

The Best Athletes Born in the '90s

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    Jae C. Hong

    Ah, yes, the '90s.

    An awkward time when we all wanted to "Be Like Mike," emulated Zack Morris and believed that the baggier clothes were, the better.

    But while some of us—ahem, me—were plotting a career as a professional athlete back then, a few of the current stars were just being born.

    Which ones have separated themselves from the pack as the best? I tried narrowing it down for you, as these are the best athletes born in the '90s.

22. Nathan MacKinnon

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    Jack Dempsey

    Born: September 1, 1995

    The No. 1 overall pick in last year's NHL draft, Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon has shown he has all the skills necessary to be a dominant offensive playmaker.

    With 24 goals and 39 assists, MacKinnon is being mentioned as the league's top rookie. He also broke a 34-year-long streak that was once held by Wayne Gretzky in which MacKinnon recorded a point in 13 straight games—the longest by an 18-year-old in league history.

21. Canelo Alvarez

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    Eric Jamison

    Born: July 18, 1990

    Although Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez lost a highly publicized bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr.—who is undefeated in his career—last fall, the 23-year-old has still set himself up quite nicely to potentially be boxing's next star.

    Carrying a 43-1-1 record with 31 by knockout into his Saturday night fight against Alfredo Angulo, Alvarez is rightfully being touted as the prize fighter for the future.

20. Jadeveon Clowney

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    Born: February 14, 1993

    Depending on what you want to believe, former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is either the best defensive lineman prospect of the past decade or a guy teams should worry about taking plays off.

    While it may be ludicrous to compare Clowney to Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor before even he ever plays a down in the NFL, the fact that people are even mentioning him in the same breath shows that Clowney's probably something special—and he should scare the hell out of opposing quarterbacks.

19. Damian Lillard

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    Danny Moloshok

    Born: July 15, 1990

    In just two seasons in the league, the former Weber State star has proven himself to be one of the best young talents in the Association.

    Damian Lillard didn't just make his first All-Star appearance this season, he also became the first NBA player to compete in every event during the weekend—Rising Stars Challenge, Skills Competition, Three-Point Contest, Slam Dunk Contest and the big game itself.

    As the unanimous winner of the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year and the leader of an upstart Portland Trail Blazers squad, Lillard is someone who will be talked about for the next 15 years or so.

18. Tomas Hertl

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez

    Born: November 12, 1993

    San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl was out of the lineup from mid-December until April 11, but that doesn't take away from the success he was enjoying before a knee injury put a halt to his rookie season.

    Now that he's returned, the Sharks hope that Hertl can give them an extra boost to enhance their chances of making a deep postseason run.

    Displaying skills that few players would even attempt, the 20-year-old has already proven to be a star.

17. John Wall

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    Evan Vucci

    Born: September 6, 1990

    After a few seasons in which he either underperformed or battled injuries, Washington Wizards guard John Wall has enjoyed a breakout season thus far in 2013-14.

    Making his first NBA All-Star Game, the former No. 1 pick is starting to live up to the hype that has been associated with him ever since he was a high schooler, going from top recruit to college superstar to a budding standout in the league.

    Guiding his Wizards to the playoffs this year, Wall is showing that, when healthy and motivated, he can be what everyone expected him to be.

16. So Yeon Ryu

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    Chris Carlson

    Born: June 29, 1990

    Currently ranked No. 7 in the women's world golf rankings, So Yeon Ryu might not be on top just yet, but don't think she's not making moves to get there.

    Still just 23, the South Korean has already won one major title—the 2011 U.S. Open—and has already finished in the top five of every other major championship on the LPGA except one.

    With a number of rising stars from her native country making their claim to be the tour's next best golfer, it's Ryu who stands above the rest.

15. Connor McDavid

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    Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

    Born: January 13, 1997

    The kid might only be 17 years old, but Connor McDavid is already being hyped as the next Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby in the NHL—and he hasn't even been drafted into the league yet.

    We'll all have to wait until 2015 to see which team is lucky enough to snatch up this Canadian star, but whoever it is should be getting a guy who can instantly turn around the fortunes of a franchise.

14. Anthony Davis

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    Jonathan Bachman

    Born: March 11, 1993

    Much like the aforementioned John Wall, former Kentucky Wildcat Anthony Davis battled inconsistency and wounds in the first year and a half of his NBA career.

    But that all changed following an early season injury this year.

    Coming back with a vengeance, the 6'10" Davis is putting up 20 points and 10 boards a game for his New Orleans Pelicans, good enough to earn his first All-Star appearance.

    With a killer combo of offensive and defensive skills, it's no wonder Davis is being touted as a blossoming superstar—and he just turned 21.

13. Jose Fernandez

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    Lynne Sladky

    Born: July 31, 1992

    I'll forgive you if you haven't heard of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. That's usually what happens when a guy is both young and on a team that underperforms. But make no mistake, the guy is nasty.

    No only did he prove that last year by capturing an All-Star spot, the NL Rookie of the Year and a top-three finish in the Cy Young voting, but he has gotten off to an even hotter start this year, going 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA.

    He may not be a national sensation like other hurlers in the majors, but don't be surprised to see this guy with multiple honors by the time he reaches his mid-20s—which is still four years away.

12. Steven Stamkos

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    Chris O'Meara

    Born: February 7, 1990

    It's actually difficult to believe that Tamp Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos was born in the '90s because he has accomplished a ton already in his six seasons in the league.

    The top pick in the 2008 draft, Stamkos may not have been the top rookie his first season, but he has earned numerous other honors, including two NHL All-Star Game appearances and two Richard Trophies as the NHL's top goal scorer.

    Battling an injury all season long, Stamkos has still put up pretty solid numbers for a Lightning team that has championship aspirations.

11. Kyrie Irving

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    Ray Amati/Getty Images

    Born: March 23, 1992

    Here's my dude, Kyrie Irving.

    Playing for my hometown Cleveland Cavs—even if he allegedly doesn't want to be, according to Robert Attenweiler of Cavs the Blog—Irving has been exactly what the team and city needed after the departure of you know who back in 2010.

    While the Cavs have struggled this year, Irving has excelled, earning his second straight NBA All-Star Game nod, his first start in the exhibition and the game's MVP award.

    Since entering the league as the No. 1 pick and top rookie in 2011, Irving has proven to have the individual skill to be a headache for opposing teams.

10. Gabby Douglas

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Born: December 31, 1995

    Remember when Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas emerged as the darling of the 2012 Summer Games?

    Yeah, she has grown up quite a bit since being that 16-year-old, wide-eyed girl.

    Becoming the first American to ever win both the team and individual all-around gold at the same Olympics, Douglas was thrust into the spotlight, being featured on special edition Corn Flakes cereal boxes and on the late-night scene.

    Although 2016 is still a couple years away, by recently reuniting with her coach, the now-18-year-old seems primed to try and defend her medals.

9. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker

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    Charles Rex Arbogast

    Born: February 23, 1995 (Wiggins), March 15, 1995 (Parker)

    Fair or not, I just couldn't help but put both Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker on the same slide, because they both could have big futures ahead of them.

    With Wiggins already having declared for the NBA draft and Parker still considering a return to Duke, these two will either be compared to each other for the next two decades or create their own legacies in separate draft classes.

    Either way, with the two battling one another in the hype department this past college hoops season, both dudes have the skills to develop into All-Stars whenever they both happen to be pros.

8. Robert Griffin III

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    Evan Vucci

    Born: February 12, 1990

    Robert Griffin III might be dusting himself off after a miserable second season for the Washington Redskins last year, but after winning a Heisman Trophy his last year at Baylor and then the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, RG3 has shown he can be dangerous when healthy.

    The one knock on Griffin is his inability to slide when in the open field, but if he learns to develop that mindset to keep himself on the field, he will continue to separate himself from past dual-threat quarterbacks.

7. Bryce Harper

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    Alex Brandon

    Born: October 16, 1992

    Another D.C. guy, Bryce Harper is one of the most electric players in all of baseball.

    Passionate yet short-tempered, the two-time All Star and former NL Rookie of the Year became a regular starter in the majors at just 19 years old. Now, at just 21, he is primed to have a breakout season in 2014, as he bulked up to help increase his power numbers.

6. Jameis Winston

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    Julio Cortez

    Born: January 6, 1994

    Many of you may be wondering why I have Florida State's Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston ahead of some others on my list.

    Consider his body of work: Winston not only won college football's most prestigious individual award, but then he led his Seminoles to an undefeated national championship season in his first year as the starter.

    And with his role as a pitcher on the FSU baseball team, Winston could become a national champ in two sports.

5. Paul George

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    Born: May 2, 1990

    With all the talk early this season about Indiana Pacers forward Paul George being the league's MVP—talk that has cooled lately—as well as his breakout over the past few seasons, it's hard to think he's still just 23.

    Despite enjoying a couple solid seasons, it wasn't until last year that George emerged as one of the best two-way players in the NBA, climbing the ladder in the Eastern Conference to be mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James.

    With the Pacers being called a threat for an NBA title, it will be George who either takes them to the promised land or not.

4. Brittney Griner

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    Jessica Hill

    Born: October 18, 1990

    After enjoying one of the most successful college basketball careers ever by a woman, current Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has continued her brilliance in the WNBA.

    An All-Star in her first season following her selection as the No. 1 overall pick, Griner might not have won the league's Rookie of the Year, but she has still shown that she is the future of the league as she enters her sophomore year.

3. Johnny Manziel

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    Gerald Herbert

    Born: December 6, 1992

    What more can one say about former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel?

    Often criticized, even when saying or doing the right things, Johnny Football has shown himself to be one of the most polarizing athletes of the past decade, combining passion and electric skill on the field with an aura around him off of it.

    Even with questions regarding both his lack of size and past behavior, Manziel is sure to become a top-five pick in next month's NFL draft, with one team hoping that he's everything he was in college—which was pretty damn good.

2. Neymar

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    Emilio Morenatti

    Born: February 5, 1992

    After putting together a decent first season for FC Barcelona, Brazilian forward Neymar's true test will come in this summer's World Cup, where he is set to become the face on the world's biggest stage in his native country.

    At just 21 years old, Neymar is hoping to join the conversation of the next great Brazilian superstar.

    He can do just that should he put the Selecao on his back and lead them to a World Cup title this summer.

1. Mike Trout

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    Born: August 7, 1991

    While the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout has proven to be a true craftsman since entering the majors back in 2012, it's not just because of his athletic ability that he lands at No. 1 on my list.

    Sure, the dude can rake at the plate and, as proven by this video, can snag fly balls away from opposing batters. But what makes him a once-in-a-generation player is the way he carries himself, how he approaches the game and his humility.

    Most kids his age have a few good years and get complacent. Not Trout, who continues to be the best player on his team, though teammates Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are the ones with four league MVPs between them and are arguably more recognizable.