As other Washington teams know, young talent can be fragile, frustrating

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,NBA,Wizards,MLB,Nationals,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

The future always looks unlimited when athletes blossom at a precocious age. But while local fans swoon over the 2012 performances of Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, there are cautionary tales.

Look no further than Wizards point guard John Wall, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and a player with enormous national popularity after his one year of college basketball at Kentucky. A lightning-fast player whose speed and court vision were expected to lift teammates to a higher level, he was all set to anchor the point guard spot in Washington for a decade.

But things haven't worked out that way for Wall, whose lack of a jump shot limited him his first two years. Wall hasn't played a game yet this season thanks to a lingering stress injury in his left knee. He did tell Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday that he hopes to be back sometime in January. But that sort of vague timeline has been in vogue all season.

Maybe Wall will return next month and rebound. He is still just 22, after all. Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg certainly did. The ace right-hander electrified the city with his 14-strikeout debut on June 8, 2010. But later that season, he blew out his elbow, and it was more than a year before local fans saw him again. And while Strasburg put together a fine 2012 season, there is still a sense there is more left in him. He finished with the third-best ERA on the team.

"You couldn't ask for anything more coming off his first season on Tommy John surgery," Nats general manager Mike Rizzo insisted after making the decision to end Strasburg's year before the playoffs. "He's one of the major contributors to a first-place ball club. We've got a lot of bright and happy days ahead of us watching Stephen Strasburg pitch."

That's the hope. But sometimes even when a young, gifted athlete matches the hype, other forces can sour fans on him. Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin, a two-time NHL MVP, has yet to lift his team past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now that Ovechkin's production has dipped from the incredible levels early in his career, some critics wonder whether he's worth his lengthy, expensive contract.

It is a lesson for Harper and Griffin -- no matter how many laurels are heaped upon them, any injury, any slip in play can bring an equal measure of scorn. What they have looks permanent but in reality is fleeting. Only championships distract people from the inevitable downtimes in a player's career.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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