It’s right here the place the epicenter of the largest story in highschool basketball originates.
It’s right here the place one of the extremely touted highschool prospects in current reminiscence started his hoops odyssey.
A journey that technically might be traced again to the early Nineties. That’s when Cooper Flagg’s mom, Kelly, was turning heads on the hardwood at Nokomis Regional Excessive College on her method to scoring 1,257 profession factors. Nokomis would turn into the identical faculty the place nearly three a long time later, one among her three sons would start capturing the eye of the basketball universe.
Kelly went on to play DI ball on the College of Maine from 1995-99, the place she launched into an unimaginable run that included 4 consecutive American East titles and making appearances within the NCAA Match all 4 years. Her senior 12 months, when she was the group captain, Kelly was a starter and led the Black Bear over Stanford to this system’s first and solely NCAA Match win.
She was already a Maine hoops legend within the ’90s, however her contributions to the sport have been solely simply starting.
Enter…Cooper Flagg. It wouldn’t take lengthy for Kelly to note that Cooper—born seven years after her collegiate run and a minute after his twin brother Ace—wasn’t the standard elementary faculty child. Seeking to problem him, she enrolled him on a 4th grade rec league group—as a 2nd grader.
“I bear in mind the ball was going out of bounds on the baseline, the opposite group’s finish of the ground. He jumped up within the air and palmed the ball. Cooper didn’t simply chuck it again inbounds to anyone, he saved it in play and located a teammate on the similar time. Moments later, he sprinted right down to the opposite finish of the ground and caught it for a layup. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a 7-year-old have these sorts of instincts,” she recollects. “It was obvious to us that 12 months when the rec season ended that he wanted extra. That isn’t what you usually see in a 7- or 8-year-old child.
“There have been loads of weekends we went to play and they might solely have 5 – 6 children,” she provides. “As a second grader, he by no means left the ground and would simply be exhausted as a result of they’d play two or three video games in a day. The following 12 months, we obtained him on a group as a 3rd grader with fifth grade boys. That was a very good match for him. Their group performed extra of a 5 in, 5 out model.”
“I bear in mind the primary couple of practices simply being actually powerful. I might come out actually drained and exhausted,” says Cooper. “I believe I had a bunch of bruises. It was simply actually tough to begin out due to how a lot older everybody was. I used to be additionally simply as tall as them from a very younger age, so I didn’t actually really feel misplaced, however you may inform that they have been extra bodily developed than me… That’s one thing that I look again on and I’m actually grateful for. Each of my dad and mom at all times pushed me to play towards older competitors. It helped me to develop quite a bit earlier.”
On the finish of Cooper’s third grade 12 months, Kelly was approached by Andy Bedard, whom she had gone to school with however had subsequently misplaced contact with. He had gotten her quantity from Amy Vachon, the present girls’s basketball head coach on the College of Maine and expressed curiosity in having her sons be part of the youth group he was teaching, which additionally included his personal son, Kaden. Andy had begun listening to rumblings that Kelly’s children have been fairly good at basketball. There was just one little drawback: Andy was primarily based out of Portland—an hour and a half away from the place the Flaggs lived.
However with the household dedicated to the sport (Cooper’s dad, Ralph, additionally hooped collegiately at Japanese Maine Neighborhood School) and the boys’ continued growth, they determined to make the journey a number of occasions per week, on weekdays. At occasions, these journeys even included quite a few members of the family and automobile swaps. When Kelly wasn’t in a position to drive the boys all the way in which to observe, she says her father would take them midway, the place Ralph, who labored in Portland, would meet them. The boys would hop in his automobile, and he’d drive them the remainder of the way in which to observe.
“We’d then hop within the car, and I might have already made numerous peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Generally we ordered a pizza forward and grabbed it on the way in which in order that they might get some meals,” says Kelly. “We’d get down there for observe at 4:30. We practiced till 6 or 6:30, after which we might head again dwelling. There have been loads of [long] nights for 10-year-olds [where] we have been getting dwelling at 9 at night time on a college night time. It was a giant dedication, and we did that twice every week, but it surely was all price it.”
To assist cross time in these lengthy automobile rides, Kelly would have the boys watch recordings of the Eighties Celtics’ championship groups. It helped set the muse for his or her basketball data, serving as a method to study the sport’s historical past whereas additionally doubling as elite movie examine classes… and three-plus hours of a lot wanted in-car leisure.
“We’d at all times both have the ‘85 or ‘86 Celtics championship video games on or the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Fowl motion pictures. It instilled Fowl’s mindset inside me and Ace. How he was at all times the toughest employee, it doesn’t matter what,” recollects Cooper. “Particularly from that Celtics group that performed towards the Rockets, it was extra concerning the teamwork and the ball motion.”
By the point Cooper and Ace have been able to attend highschool, it was an apparent alternative the place they’d go—Nokomis Regional, the identical program the place their mother starred within the early ’90s, and, properly, the one highschool within the metropolis of Newport.
They entered their freshman 12 months within the fall of 2021 underneath a novel set of circumstances. With the world nonetheless reeling from the consequences of a world pandemic, Cooper, Ace and his teammates needed to put on masks whereas enjoying. However extra distinctive was the household affair that the chance offered. On the group was additionally their older brother, Hunter, who was a senior. However because the season progressed, the roles between the youthful brothers and their oldest sibling started to shift.
“The group was actually unhealthy for years main as much as that 12 months and that run that they had,” Kelly says. “They have been 1-17 for 2 years in a row. In Hunter’s junior 12 months, they have been 3-15. Hunter was a giant who obtained loads of minutes and was a starter in his sophomore and junior years. Early on in [Cooper’s and Ace’s freshman] season, all three of them began. Cooper averaged six dunks a recreation in center faculty. The excitement that his identify was producing within the state of Maine round basketball was extraordinary earlier than he even performed his first highschool recreation. Individuals simply couldn’t wait to see him play. A few video games into the season after a profitable preseason, the coach had Hunter and one other senior coming off the bench. The each of them dealt with it so properly although it was a tricky tablet to swallow. All of the seniors have been so gracious and have been simply excited to have a profitable group. Even the dad and mom of the senior boys have been wonderful.”
That season ended up being one for the ages. The group went 21-1 on their method to capturing the state title. Cooper started to indicate the identical flashes of elite expertise that the remainder of the world has now caught up on. He averaged 21 factors, 10 rebounds and 6 assists that season as a ninth grader. The USA Basketball web site highlights one specific outing the place he dropped 32 factors, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 blocks and three steals in an early January recreation.
“[Having Ace, Hunter, and me on the same team] was at all times one thing we have been enthusiastic about. It was a very enjoyable 12 months usually as a result of it was going to be our final 12 months with Hunter. We knew that we in all probability weren’t going to be going again to Nokomis after that 12 months, so we had loads of enjoyable with it,” says Cooper. “Profitable the state championship collectively was a dream we at all times had, and one thing we needed to do collectively for the neighborhood… We knew what the group was going to be as a result of we had a fall ball group that had been enjoying collectively because the summer season. Ace and I had been enjoying up with the varsity [team] through the summer season.”
As if the Flaggs’ story thus far wasn’t already a Hollywood-type script, the story behind the supporting forged of that championship group actually drives dwelling the purpose. When Kelly was a senior at Nokomis, she shared the ground with teammates Penny, Jaime, Katie and Amanda—quick ahead some three a long time later, and their respective sons—Dawson Townsend, Ethan Cote, Alex Grant and Madden White—have been all now sharing that very same ground with Kelly’s children at the exact same faculty. A reminder of simply how small the Newport neighborhood actually is.
After the movie-esque season, although, got here a troublesome resolution. The household needed to resolve between persevering with their highschool careers at Nokomis or making the sacrifice of relocating looking for an opportunity to take their video games to the subsequent degree. Ultimately, the latter took priority, and Cooper and Ace discovered themselves on their method to Florida for his or her sophomore campaigns, enrolling at nationwide powerhouse Montverde Academy. Except for that includes an unmatched alumni record that features Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid (transferred out), D’Angelo Russell and RJ Barrett, amongst a plethora of different NBA gamers, the Eagles are famend for his or her state-of-the-art amenities and enjoying a top-notch nationwide schedule that competes towards the nation’s prime expertise. It’s been thought to be the closest factor to a DI program at the highschool degree. In actual fact, since 2021, Montverde has had 12 gamers chosen within the NBA Draft. In distinction, throughout that very same interval, Duke has had eight and Kentucky has had seven.
“There have been these whispers a few child that was doubtlessly superb, from Maine of all locations, they usually have been enjoying at The Massive Home, which is half-hour from our college in Florida in a Made Hoops occasion,” recollects Montverde head coach Kevin Boyle. “So, I went there to look at a few of our youthful guys and to see what sort of potential Cooper had. You could possibly simply see he had a competitiveness and athleticism that at minimally, he was going to be an impressive participant.”
The transfer to Montverde helped elevate Cooper’s profile on a nationwide scale whereas additionally taking his recreation up a notch. In 2022, he grew to become the youngest ever USA Basketball Male Athlete of the 12 months.
The aggressive facet of Cooper isn’t any extra evident than if you hear him discuss concerning the driveway battles he’s had along with his household all through the years. These would get actually heated generally, and nobody was secure from it, not even his personal mom.
“Numerous hours spent within the driveway battling towards each of [my brothers]. Too many fights to recollect. Simply loads of enjoyable we used to have enjoying towards one another and simply battling,” says Cooper. “Me and my mother used to battle on a regular basis [too]. I believe the final time we performed was in fifth grade. She truly obtained harm once we have been enjoying, and we haven’t performed since. So I by no means beat her. I used to be beating her that one time. I used to be up 9 to eight in a recreation to 11, however then she obtained harm.”
“That’s not precisely the way in which I bear in mind it taking place,” says Kelly, after getting wind of Cooper’s 1-on-1 recollection. “He might have been within the lead, however I’m positive had I not torn my meniscus, I might have come again and overwhelmed him in that recreation. I drove to the left and did a tough soar cease. He went flying, and I might have scored and tied up the sport. Once I planted it, I simply felt [like] one thing was not proper. So, he technically has by no means overwhelmed me.
“I didn’t play them that always,” she provides. “Each infrequently, I might get in there simply to remind them who the boss was. All three of our boys had battles. These occurred every day, or no less than a number of occasions every week. Each single time that the three of them went out to play, we knew that it was going to finish in some kind of bodily battle or verbal altercation. There was normally somebody bleeding on the finish. The ball was chucked throughout the road. It didn’t finish properly. I attribute that to their competitiveness, particularly in these early days of desirous to win.”
Tales of simply how aggressive Cooper is are rampant. When Coach Boyle is requested for a narrative that completely displays Cooper’s persona, he laughs for just a few seconds earlier than recalling the time Cooper needed to be separated from a observe scuffle…along with his personal twin brother.
“It was Cooper and his brother swinging at one another in observe once they have been on opposing groups,” Boyle says. “They obtained tousled in just a few performs and we needed to break them up after throwing punches at one another. It’s an excellent story as a result of it simply reveals the competitiveness in him as a result of the household all love one another dearly, however once they’re on the courtroom, they’re competing. It’s one of many few fights at observe we’ve had since I’ve been at Montverde. It introduced a smile to my face, it introduced me again to the St. Patrick [HS in Elizabeth, NJ] days.”
As spectacular as his recreation is, it’s the truth that he’s nonetheless solely 16 years previous that basically hits. He’ll be 17 for his first 4 months of faculty since his birthday isn’t till December. Past the talent set, arduous dedication to each ends of the ground, spectacular athleticism, otherworldly confidence and poised demeanor, Cooper is barely sufficiently old to be in his present grade.
This previous summer season, although, Cooper Flagg-mania hit a brand new tier. Until you spent the hotter months of 2023 residing underneath a rock, you doubtless noticed highlights of Cooper in your feed sooner or later whereas scrolling in your cellphone. His identify would pattern on Twitter periodically and movies of him completely manhandling his friends drew the eye of hoop followers and added fireplace to the frenzy. This all led to an epic run on the Nike EYBL Peach Jam.
Enjoying for Maine United, which earlier within the spring in jeopardy of even qualifying for Peach Jam, Cooper and firm ended up happening a Cinderella-type run within the days that adopted. Though they entered the U16 Peach Jam with a 9-9 document, the group went undefeated (4-0) in pool play on its method to the championship recreation, the place they finally fell quick. Flagg averaged 25.4 factors, 13.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists within the match and even had LeBron James method him at one level to cut it up—an interplay that made the rounds on-line.
“It’d be powerful for anyone to do a scouting report on me by way of how they’re going to take me out of a recreation,” Cooper says. “They will take sure components of my recreation away, however I believe that I’m too versatile and an excessive amount of of a well-rounded participant that no group can take me out of the sport.
“By way of difficult, I don’t actually know if I may say one thing that’s actually difficult as a result of many of the issues that individuals would see as difficult are an end result of some alternative that I’ve been given. It’s important to take a look at it in that manner.”
For Cooper, although, it wasn’t nearly surprising the world in main an unbeknownst AAU group from Maine, of all locations, to the title recreation of probably the most prestigious grassroots circuit on the earth—all after barely sustaining a .500 document going into the ultimate session. It was extra about the truth that this exact same AAU program was stuffed with teammates that he met when he would journey 3+ hours for observe as a fourth grader. It was the fruits of an nearly decade-long journey alongside some children from The Pine Tree State with related hoop desires as his.
Not lengthy after, Cooper discovered himself having to make yet one more high-stake, life-altering resolution this previous summer season: keep in his present class and proceed to the dominate everybody in entrance of him, or reclassify up and be part of the senior class of 2024, which might expedite his final dream of going professional someday. He selected the latter, after all.
And though everybody watched his meteoric rise this 12 months on social media, what they didn’t see was that behind the scenes, Cooper was taking summer season courses when he wasn’t touring across the nation and tearing up each occasion he stepped foot in, all with a view to put himself on observe to have sufficient credit to reclassify as much as the Class of 2024.
“It was actually powerful as a result of after I was dwelling, the principle factor I used to be doing was schoolwork,” Cooper says. “I needed to concentrate on schoolwork over seeing my buddies that I hadn’t seen in months. Attempting to stability all these various things was powerful however one thing that I needed to do.”
All these earlier selections led to this present resolution, his most essential one but. Deciding between UConn and Duke. Cooper visited each campuses in current weeks, and when it got here time to choose a vacation spot, he went along with his intestine feeling, identical to he has with each different resolution.
“I believe after I obtained on campus at Duke, I actually began to really feel it, to be trustworthy,” he says. “That’s one thing the coaches positively pressured to me, that when you get to campus, it’s one thing it’s a must to really feel. And [I knew then] I needed to go to Duke and that’s the place I needed to play school basketball. What went into the choice, I imply, I used to be simply searching for a training employees I used to be actually comfy with, however [also] a coach and employees that was actually going to carry me accountable. Being on the go to, I obtained to see them in observe, and see how they have been holding their guys accountable, and actually pushing them to be higher. For me, ever since I used to be a bit of child, I at all times had desires of enjoying Division I basketball on the highest degree. Particularly with a spot like Duke, as soon as we obtained to campus, we felt it.
“I’m honored that I’ve the chance to affix The Brotherhood, and hopefully I’ll be one of many gamers that recruits are some day and somebody they will see themselves being. Particularly from all of the love I noticed this final weekend after I was there, it made me actually excited, all of the [Cameron] Crazies and the followers. I believe it’s going to be a very thrilling 12 months and [fans] ought to simply prepare as a result of I do know that I’m all about profitable, so I’m making an attempt to maintain that profitable tradition that Duke has.”
In Durham, after carrying No. 32 his entire life—a jersey quantity retired by Duke because of Christian Laettner—Cooper has chosen to put on No. 2 as a substitute subsequent 12 months, in honor of his shut buddy Donovan Kurt, who attended Nokomis Regional again in Maine (he wore No. 2) and handed away final 12 months after a protracted battle with mind most cancers (go to here to help households of kids combating most cancers in Maine).
“[This] is one thing that I’m making an attempt to hold with me. [I want to] show that children from Maine could make it in the event that they put their minds to it they usually actually work arduous sufficient,” says Cooper. “That’s one thing that I’m taking loads of pleasure in. It’s proving to everyone from Maine, the remainder of the nation, and around the globe, that children from Maine could make it.”
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