Under the radar, underappreciated, underrated. Whatever you want to call it, we are here to give the people some names that you’re probably not seeing on the center court live stream broadcast. However, these are names you probably want to keep an eye on This is part one of NML Pickleball’s under the radar players. Under the radar doesn’t necessarily mean we expect these players to take a leap, it can also mean to us that there is something captivating or intriguing that keeps us wanting to see more. We’re featuring the men today in our first collaboration with The Dink and their newsletter. We’ll have the women in the next issue of The Dink’s newsletter.
Daniel de la Rosa – He does not have that classic tennis background but he is also a literal world champion racquetball player. Simply put, he is ultra-talented. Quite possibly the hardest overhead in the game, de la Rosa also has some very good hands to go along with that power. The results have started to come. You might have seen him and Pesa Teoni have a good run at the Red Rock PPA earlier this year with big wins over Deakin/Pat Smith and McGuffin/Dawson. While the talent is there, we’re always curious what his desire is to be great at pickleball. Never shy about throwing in the unnecessary trick shots, is this just a fun pastime for de la Rosa or does he want to be one of the best in the game.
Pesa Teoni – As we already noted, he had the good run with Daniel de la Rosa in Red Rock. He’s another guy with a monster overhead and he has weapons from all sides. He doesn’t have the strong racket sport background of a lot of other guys on the rise but there is a lot of power in that compact frame. He is a fun guy to watch play.
Wesley Burrows – Speaking of ultra-talented, Burrows’ tennis background is quite impressive. In the pickleball realm, he gets W’s against good teams without the top end partners (other than Jeff Warnick in Newport recently). He always seems to get a few wins in these bigger tournaments with his frenetic, Riley Newman-ish style of play out there. Burrows and Quinn Borchard even took down Callan Dawson and DJ Young in a crazy, weird wind match late last year. Burrows doesn’t have the consistency that is needed to win and he’s another guy that you wonder about his desire to reach the top echelon of pickleball.
AJ Koller – is this NML Pickleball or the AJ Koller fan club? Some might say we have already talked about him too much. Some, but not us. We also don’t think he is under the radar in the pro world anymore. The question for him is will he start getting better upper tier partnerships to see what he’s truly made of? After some hanging out in Austin, maybe a Nunnery/Koller reunion is on the horizon after their partnership was disrupted by Nunnery’s injury last year at the California Open.
Spencer Smith – He is Tyler Loong’s regular partner this year and this has brought him to the forefront more, but we don’t think a lot of casual pickleball fans outside of Utah know who he is. He might have the prettiest ground strokes in the game, and his doubles game is being the steady-Eddy foil to Tyler Loong’s unique athleticism. We have said it before but he needs more variety to reach that next level in doubles.
Drake Bernstein – Bernstein has not played much pickleball likely due to his job as a college tennis coach, but he has been playing a little while and he has some very impressive wins. His first tournament of record on Pickleball Tournaments was with Patrick Smith at the Georgia PPA last year where they beat Stone/Bar and Deakin/Yates. He then showed up to win Dominic Catalano’s Moneyball with Rob Nunnery in December. He has a seriously good backhand roll and silky, soft hands. He just needs to play more.
JW Johnson – Johnson is another one of those guys that the pros are recognizing but casual fans likely don’t know. Don’t let his youth fool you. He has super strong hands and a very consistent game.
Eden Lica / Andrei Daescu – Bronze at nationals in 2019, neither of these guys play all that much compared to the top pros. However, these two are super solid players with incredibly strong tennis backgrounds. They fly under the radar only because of their lack of play. Despite his enormous build, Lica’s game is suited to being the perfect beta partner. He seems quite happy to play that role, particularly when he has played with Dasecu. What’s perhaps most impressive about these two guys is that despite their somewhat limited play, they never look out of place out there, even against the best in the game.
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