Every year, certain athletes emerge, and certain athletes fade. This is the nature of athlete career arcs: Albert Pujols was a revelation in 2001 and on the downward swing in 2012. It's sadder to think about the decline: Athletes' accelerated aging curves remind us how we're all decaying and atrophying and dying. The excitement of sports comes from those who take us by surprise, the ones who seem to come from nowhere.
They don't, of course: As any successful athlete will tell you, all overnight success stories are the result of years of hard work and devotion. But to us, it's all new and exciting and amazing. Thus, as we continue to count down the final days of the year with as many lists as possible, here are the 10 athletes who emerged in 2013:
Michael Carter-Williams. In a NBA draft class that wasn't considered one of the stronger of recent years -- that's next year -- it has been, surprisingly, the Syracuse guard who has exploded most onto the scene. He leads all rookies in minutes, points, assists and steals, and he has made the lowly, tanking 76ers a must-watch team on any given night. Plus, he's doing it in a losing cause, which makes it that much more likely he'll have another superstar to add to the roster in about six months.
Andy Enfield. Heading into the NCAA tournament, Andy Enfield was known mostly for his Maxim model wife and that he was a founding investor in a multimillion dollar pharmaceutical stock. In the span of two days in Philadelphia, he became the hottest coach in college basketball. Florida Gulf Coast, out of nowhere, with a college campus that looks like this, wiped out both Georgetown and San Diego State in as entertaining a fashion as you could imagine. They were dunking, running and having the time of their lives. FGCU hasn't had the same success this year, starting out 6-7, but Enfield parlayed the two nights in Philly to a gig coaching Southern California, where he's ruffled tons of feathers.
Jose Fernandez. It's rare that the Miami Marlins make a personnel move that isn't questioned, so when they decided to call up the 20-year-old prospect for Opening Day, they were widely mocked. Turned out, for once, the Marlins made the right move: Fernandez was terrific from the start and only got better. He ended up with a 2.19 ERA, 9.7 K/9 ratio and baseball's best H/9 ratio at 5.8. He also did something even more astounding: He made the Marlins must-see. And he won't be 22 until July 31.
Paul George. The Pacers swingman was considered an up-and-comer coming into 2013, but this year, he morphed into a superstar. He's without question one of the best five players in the game right now, he's only 23 and his team has the best record in the Eastern Conference. George won't truly be able to reach the next level until he bests LeBron James and the Heat in the playoffs, but in 2013, he showed that very well might be a possibility.
Lennay Kekua. Only true superstars can emerge by not existing at all. When Deadspin revealed that Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend had never actually lived, she became more famous than she ever could have if alive. Had she lived and died, she would have been forgotten. Now? She'll live forever.
Tyrann Mathieu. The whole Honey Badger story has long been overblown: The guy smoked some weed occasionally, and only in the world of the NFL would that make you some sort of monster who must be redeemed. So it has been nice to just sit back and enjoy Mathieu's undeniable skill as a football player, a natural, almost instinctive talent who helped turn the Arizona Cardinals' defense into one of the NFL's best this year. A late-season injury will slow him down for 2014, but he's established himself to the point that maybe, now, people will finally get off his back.
Jabari Parker. Of all the phenom freshmen taking college basketball by storm this year -- along with Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Arizona's Aaron Gordon -- it has been Duke's Parker who has impressed the most. He's averaging 22 points a game -- shooting 48 percent from three-point range -- and he's also grabbing rebounds and dishing out assists. He has some work to do defensively, but after briefly being overshadowed this offseason, he has taken over as the star of this class.
Yasiel Puig. It might seem strange now, but Puig wasn't considered one of baseball's top prospects at the beginning of 2013. (ESPN's Keith Law didn't even have him in his top 100.) But when he arrived, he not only hit, he did in a way that seemed to shake baseball to its very core. He was brash, he was cocky, he was undisciplined and he was fantastic. Love him or hate him -- and I find it difficult to understand why people would hate him -- he was mesmerizing to watch.
Koji Uehara. All right, so Uehara has been in the majors since 2009 and is 38 years old. That doesn't mean he can't break through. After four solid years in Baltimore and Texas, Uehara became a god this year, giving the Red Sox 74 1/3 innings with a 1.09 ERA and ultimately becoming a postseason shutdown closer in the (dare we say it?) Mariano Rivera mold. His control was unbelievable -- he issued only seven unintentional walks all season -- and he became a folk hero in his new adopted hometown. Who says you can't reinvent yourself at 38?
Jameis Winston. If you can put all the off-field business aside -- and it is understandable if you could not -- no one made a bigger splash than Winston this year. He was instantly, obviously the best player in college football, and if he could come out for the NFL right now (he can't), he might be the top overall pick. It's going to take him a while to live down that scandal, but his talent is overwhelming.
* * *