By CARA COOPER
Welcome back for part two of my definitive list of best current Virginia athletes. As a reminder, I’m ranking the top 8 best athletes currently playing who call (or have called) Virginia home.
To refresh your memory, the rules are:
– The athlete has to be currently competing or not yet retired.
– They don’t necessarily have to have been born in Virginia but have called it home either currently or at some point in their life.
– Only athletes, not coaches.
– The rankings are based on a combination of athletic prowess, on-field achievements and overall popularity, and are ranked from least to best Virginian.
To recap, Nos. 8-5 were Cleveland Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor (Hampton), New York Mets third baseman David Wright (Newport News), NASCAR Cup Series Driver Denny Hamlin (Chesterfield), and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long (Charlottesville).
So, without further adieu, here are the top four Virginia athletes:
- J.J. Redick
Hometown – Roanoke
– Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard, 11 year NBA career, 2006 National College Player of the Year at Duke, two time ACC Player of the Year, has his No. 4 retired at Duke
I’m going to be honest here. J.J. Redick is my favorite athlete of all time. I won’t get into it fully, but I have his autograph framed and hanging up in my living room.
But that’s neither here nor there. Redick is, by most accounts, the most prolific shooter in college basketball history. When he graduated in 2006, he held the all-time ACC scoring record, and the Duke record for most points in season. He set a record for most consecutive free throws made in college, and finished his Blue Devils career with 457 made threes, a 40.4 career percentage.
He’s also been no slouch in the NBA, thanks in part to the league’s recent shift to focusing on 3s more. He’s played for four different teams, but has averaged 12.4 points per game in his career, with a .415 3-point percentage. He just re-signed with the 76ers, and he’s just 34 so he’s definitely got more years in him.
Also, for anyone who enjoys starting stupid basketball arguments that are likely to make someone’s head explode – given that the basketball hall of fame isn’t just NBA specific, and given his incredible college numbers and long NBA career, is J.J. Redick a hall of famer? (Probably (definitely) not, but like I said, he’s my favorite athlete of all time so I’m going to go with a resounding yes anyway.)
- Gabby Douglas
Born – Newport News
– US Olympic gymnast, Individual all-around gold medalist at 2012 Olympics, two time member of Team USA’s gold medal winning team in 2012 and 2016
I looked up all of the athletes born in Virginia who competed in the most recent Summer and Winter Olympics, and there were four who competed in PyeongChang, and 14 who competed in Rio. Not on that list – Gabby Douglas. Apparently she calls L.A. home now, but we’ll let that slide because she lived here until she was 14 and I want to claim her as one of us.
Gabby is one of the most decorated gymnasts of all-time, and even more impressively she competed in two straight Games, something hardly seen in the sport anymore.
I’m not positive if Gabby is still technically competing, but she hasn’t announced a retirement so I’m keeping her on the list, mostly because she’s the only female and I didn’t want a best Virginia athletes list without at least one.
- Russell Wilson
Hometown – Richmond
– Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Super Bowl champion, four time NFL Pro Bowler
There was a pretty big debate in my brain between Nos. 1 and 2. I’ll get into all of it in a bit. But first, a bit on Wilson. The 5-foot-11 quarterback has defied odds throughout his college and high school career. He was drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin, and everyone figured he was too small to play in the NFL.
Since then, he’s taken the Seahawks to two straight Super Bowls, winning in 2014, and has thrown 161 touchdowns and for more than 22,000 yards in six NFL seasons. In the NFL’s current ranking of the top 100 players, Wilson is the fifth quarterback, and only one ahead of him is younger. Wilson is popular too, with 3.3 million followers on Instagram. He also definitely has a lot of years ahead of him, so he should stay towards the top of the Virginia rankings for a good while.
- Justin Verlander
Hometown – Goochland
– 2011 Major League Baseball American League MVP and Cy Young winner, 2017 World Series champion and ALCS MVP
A couple of years ago, Justin Verlander was one of those pitchers who showed up on a lot of “is he a hall of famer?” lists. That was until last season when he was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Houston Astros. Verlander revitalized his career in Houston, and was the ace of the staff that won the World Series.
Considering Verlander is one of only 10 pitchers to ever win league MVP, and is the current favorite to win the Cy Young award this season, which would be the second of his career, it seems like the 35-year-old is a no-brainer for Cooperstown eventually. If that happens, he would be one of just six Virginians in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The tough part of this list was choosing between Verlander and Wilson for which is the absolute best Virginia athlete. They’ve both won exactly one championship, they’re both married to much more famous celebrities, and they’re both borderline hall of famers who will have their career numbers picked apart and argued for days on end once their careers are over.
So it comes down to numbers and popularity. Wilson is definitely more famous than Verlander, mostly because the NFL is more popular than MLB and Future wrote a diss track about him. Also, he has 5.5 million followers on Twitter, and Verlander has a measly 1.9 million. Verlander also only has 627,000 followers on Instagram, which is honestly embarrassing for him.
But, Verlander is slightly better when it comes to numbers. Wilson has not won an MVP award, and like I said earlier the fact Verlander did win as a pitcher is a huge accomplishment. And he’s six years older, so he’s had more time to rack up the awards.
So I’m giving this to Verlander. We’ll see in a few decades when both of their careers are done where they both rank on the all-time Virginia athletes list (though neither will ever be Allen Iverson, let’s be honest).
PS – After thinking about it, if Wilson had two Super Bowl rings he probably beats out Verlander. So the only reason he isn’t No. 1 is because the Seahawks didn’t give the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the end of the 2015 Super Bowl. I hope Pete Carroll is okay with that on his conscience.
This story first appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin.