Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
In a league of coddled superstars and guys riding seven-figure salaries since they were teenagers, Hassan Whiteside is the rare star-in-the-making who actually earned it. After a year at Marshall University, Whiteside played for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Iowa Energy, the Sichuan Blue Whales in China, and Al Mouttahed Tripoli of the Lebanese Basketball League. But in 2015, perhaps the bleakest year in Miami Heat history, Whiteside took his chance in the NBA by pulling down rebounds as if they were lemons hanging on a tree and blocking shots as if he were swatting mosquitoes. Once, he dunked so hard his hand required multiple stitches. Another time, he put up numbers on the boards and from the field that the Heat has never seen, not even in the days of Shaquille O'Neal. This past February 4, he totaled 24 points on 12-of-13 shooting while pulling down 20 rebounds. He's the heart of the next-generation Heat, and he's probably not headed back to Lebanon anytime soon.
Readers' choice: Dwyane Wade
Jimmy Stobs is a great golfer. The 45-year-old Miami native played professionally for ten years and once won the Florida Open. But it's quickly becoming clear that Stobs is an even better coach. After beginning his career at Miami Country Day, Stobs took over the Barry University men's team in 2002. That year, the Bucs struggled, finishing under .500, but since then, Stobs has wasted no time in turning Barry into a Division II powerhouse: In 2003-04, his second season at the school, the team went 130-38 and won its first-ever place in the national tournament. Stobs was named a regional coach of the year. Three years later, in 2007, the Bucs were national champions. They repeated as champs in 2013 and 2014, and this year the linksters on 113th Street are again contending for a national championship. Not that winning is everything, of course: Under Stobs, who also serves on the board of an adversity award, Barry's men's teams have also lent a hand to Habitat for Humanity and local reading programs.
Readers' choice: Erik Spoelstra
It's the afternoon of September 7, 2014, the Dolphins' opening game: at home, against perennial powerhouse and Fins nemesis the New England Patriots. Deep in the third quarter, the Patriots are up by a touchdown. Living legend Tom Brady takes the snap. He moves back laterally, scanning his head side to side for a receiver. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake targets Brady like a laser and flies full speed around the Patriots' linemen. Brady sees him coming, tries to dance away. Wake lunges hard at the quarterback and tackles his torso. Fumble. Dolphins recover. Dolphins score. Late in the fourth, Wake sacks Brady again. Another fumble. Victory sealed. Wake, a 33-year-old Maryland native, signed with the Dolphins in 2009 after struggling for years to find a spot on an NFL roster. In Miami his star finally rose, and last season Wake's defensive play was as bright as the fan favorite's megawatt smile: He earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his takedowns of Brady and went on to rack up a season-total 11.5 sacks and 31 tackles. That was more than enough to cement his place as one of the Dolphins' top performers — and to earn the onetime mortgage broker his fourth Pro Bowl nomination.
Readers' choice: Ryan Tannehill
For the past decade, Marlins fans have known that only three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and October disappointment. Between periodic spending sprees and corresponding fire sales, it's been a long roller-coaster ride with a team that's less reliable than Randy Choate's fastball. In the end, we can expect only heartbreak. Until now, that is. One man has taken on the challenge of saving the Marlins organization from itself. Major League Baseball's $325 million man, Giancarlo Stanton signed the largest contract in the history of North American professional sports last November — making Stanton the face of the Marlins for the next 13 years. In signing that contract, the superstar worked to convince ownership that he needed the teammates to back him. The Marlins followed that up with new additions and aimed to build a winner. After sitting out the final weeks of last season when he got nailed in the face with a heater, a recovered Stanton has returned in 2015 with fire in his toned abs. If Stanton can bring this team back to the promised land of the postseason, Jeff Conine might have to give up his title of Mr. Marlin.
Readers' choice: Giancarlo Stanton
Coming into the season, the expectations weren't exactly low for Aaron Ekblad. After all, the now-19-year-old defenseman had been taken by the Panthers as the first overall pick in the NHL Draft last summer. But not even those savvy Sunrise scouts could have predicted a breakout year quite like this: In his first season removed from junior hockey, the powerful young Canadian was arguably the Cats' most valuable player. He was the team's top-scoring defenseman and one of its top scorers overall. He was the Panthers' plus-minus leader, a stat that tracks goal differential while a player is on the ice. He earned that title while also topping the squad in playing time. Despite his youth, his teammates already praise him as a leader, and his physical, cerebral performance was a major factor behind the Panthers' first serious playoff push in three years (even if they did come up short). It also earned Ekblad a spot in the All-Star Game, not to mention a place in the conversation for the league's coveted most outstanding rookie award. For a precocious teenager from small-town Ontario, does it get any better than this?
Brad Kaaya is so flya he sets the Hurricanes on fiyah. The rhymes never end, and the puns — oh, the Kaaya puns — don't even get us started. But the only reason we're all having so much damn fun with the Canes quarterback's name is because, as a true freshman, Kaaya showed the nation last season that he's the real deal. Between leading the Atlantic Coastal Conference in passing touchdowns (26) and finishing second in yards (3,198), Kaaya earned his title as ACC Rookie of the Year. Now, with running back Duke Johnson drafted into the NFL, alongside the rest of the Canes' standout seniors, Kaaya will return as the inevitable leader of the Miami Hurricanes football team. Older teammates say they're ready to listen to what Kaaya has to say in the huddle because he's earned the right to take on this leadership role. Let's hope we'll be saying "Hi, Felicia" (thanks to his mom, Angela Means Kaaya, who played that character in the movie Friday) for many seasons to come.
Readers' choice: Duke Johnson