Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Cooper Flagg Proclaims He’s Headed to Duke on the Cowl of SLAM 247

Newport, Maine.                                

Inhabitants…roughly 3,000.                                                      

It’s right here the place the epicenter of the most important story in highschool basketball originates.  

It’s right here the place one of the vital extremely touted highschool prospects in latest reminiscence started his hoops odyssey.

A journey that technically may 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 approach to scoring 1,257 profession factors. Nokomis would turn into the identical college the place nearly three many years later, certainly one of 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 unbelievable run that included 4 consecutive American East titles and making appearances within the NCAA Match all 4 years. Her senior yr, when she was the staff 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 had 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 college child. Trying to problem him, she enrolled him on a 4th grade rec league staff—as a 2nd grader. 

“I keep in mind the ball was going out of bounds on the baseline, the opposite staff’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 identical time. Moments later, he sprinted all the way 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 remembers. “It was obvious to us that yr 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 a number of weekends we went to play and they’d solely have 5 – 6 youngsters,” she provides. “As a second grader, he by no means left the ground and would simply be exhausted as a result of they might play two or three video games in a day. The following yr, we obtained him on a staff as a 3rd grader with fifth grade boys. That was a extremely good match for him. Their staff performed extra of a 5 in, 5 out model.”

I keep in mind the primary couple of practices simply being actually robust. I’d come out actually drained and exhausted,” says Cooper. “I feel 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 extremely younger age, so I didn’t actually really feel misplaced, however you can inform that they had been extra bodily developed than me… That’s one thing that I look again on and I’m actually grateful for. Each of my mother and father at all times pushed me to play towards older competitors. It helped me to develop so much earlier.”

SLAM 247 that includes Cooper Flagg is out now. Store right here.

On the finish of Cooper’s third grade yr, 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 a part of the youth staff he was teaching, which additionally included his personal son, Kaden. Andy had begun listening to rumblings that Kelly’s youngsters had been fairly good at basketball. There was just one little downside: Andy was based mostly 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 Jap Maine Neighborhood School) and the boys’ continued improvement, they determined to make the journey a number of instances per week, on weekdays. At instances, these journeys even included quite a few members of the family and automobile swaps. When Kelly wasn’t capable of drive the boys all the best way to follow, 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 best way to follow.

“We’d then hop within the car, and I’d have already made plenty of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Typically we ordered a pizza forward and grabbed it on the best way in order that they may get some meals,” says Kelly. “We’d get down there for follow at 4:30. We practiced till 6 or 6:30, after which we might head again house. There have been a number of [long] nights for 10-year-olds [where] we had been getting house at 9 at evening on a faculty evening. It was an enormous dedication, and we did that twice every week, however it was all value it.”

To assist cross time in these lengthy automobile rides, Kelly would have the boys watch recordings of the Nineteen Eighties Celtics’ championship groups. It helped set the muse for his or her basketball data, serving as a approach 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,” remembers Cooper. “Particularly from that Celtics staff that performed towards the Rockets, it was extra concerning the teamwork and the ball motion.”

By the point Cooper and Ace had been able to attend highschool, it was an apparent alternative the place they might go—Nokomis Regional, the identical program the place their mother starred within the early ’90s, and, effectively, the one highschool within the metropolis of Newport.

They entered their freshman yr within the fall of 2021 underneath a singular set of circumstances. With the world nonetheless reeling from the consequences of a worldwide pandemic, Cooper, Ace and his teammates needed to put on masks whereas taking part in. However extra distinctive was the household affair that the chance offered. On the staff 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 staff was actually dangerous for years main as much as that yr and that run that they had,” Kelly says. “They had been 1-17 for 2 years in a row. In Hunter’s junior yr, they had been 3-15. Hunter was an enormous who obtained a number 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 college. 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. Folks 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 effectively despite the fact that it was a troublesome tablet to swallow. All of the seniors had been so gracious and had been simply excited to have a profitable staff. Even the mother and father of the senior boys had been wonderful.”

That season ended up being one for the ages. The staff went 21-1 on their approach to capturing the state title. Cooper started to point out 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 explicit 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 had been enthusiastic about. It was a extremely enjoyable yr on the whole as a result of it was going to be our final yr with Hunter. We knew that we most likely weren’t going to be going again to Nokomis after that yr, so we had a number of enjoyable with it,” says Cooper. “Profitable the state championship collectively was a dream we at all times had, and one thing we wished to do collectively for the group… We knew what the staff was going to be as a result of we had a fall ball staff that had been taking part in collectively for the reason that summer time. Ace and I had been taking part in up with the varsity [team] throughout the summer time.”   

As if the Flaggs’ story to date wasn’t already a Hollywood-type script, the story behind the supporting solid of that championship staff actually drives house the purpose. When Kelly was a senior at Nokomis, she shared the ground with teammates Penny, Jaime, Katie and Amanda—quick ahead some three many years later, and their respective sons—Dawson Townsend, Ethan Cote, Alex Grant and Madden White—had been all now sharing that very same ground with Kelly’s youngsters at the exact same college. A reminder of simply how small the Newport group actually is.  

After the movie-esque season, although, got here a tough choice. 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 approach to Florida for his or her sophomore campaigns, enrolling at nationwide powerhouse Montverde Academy. Apart from that includes an unmatched alumni checklist 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 taking part in a top-notch nationwide schedule that competes towards the nation’s high expertise. It’s been considered 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 couple of child that was probably excellent, from Maine of all locations, and so they had been taking part in at The Massive Home, which is half-hour from our faculty in Florida in a Made Hoops occasion,” remembers Montverde head coach Kevin Boyle. “So, I went there to observe a few of our youthful guys and to see what sort of potential Cooper had. You would simply see he had a competitiveness and athleticism that at minimally, he was going to be an excellent participant.”  

The transfer to Montverde helped increase 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 Yr.

The aggressive aspect of Cooper is not any extra evident than once you hear him speak concerning the driveway battles he’s had along with his household all through the years. These would get actually heated typically, 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 a number of enjoyable we used to have taking part in towards one another and simply battling,” says Cooper. “Me and my mother used to battle on a regular basis [too]. I feel the final time we performed was in fifth grade. She truly obtained harm once we had been taking part in, 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 best way I keep in mind it taking place,” says Kelly, after getting wind of Cooper’s 1-on-1 recollection. “He could have been within the lead, however I’m positive had I not torn my meniscus, I’d have come again and overwhelmed him in that recreation. I drove to the left and did a tough bounce cease. He went flying, and I’d have scored and tied up the sport. After 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 usually,” she provides. “Each from time to time, I’d get in there simply to remind them who the boss was. All three of our boys had battles. These occurred day by day, or no less than a number of instances every week. Each single time that the three of them went out to play, we knew that it was going to finish in some type 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 effectively. I attribute that to their competitiveness, particularly in these early days of eager 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 a number of seconds earlier than recalling the time Cooper needed to be separated from a follow scuffle…along with his personal twin brother.

“It was Cooper and his brother swinging at one another in follow once they had been on opposing groups,” Boyle says. “They obtained snarled in a number of 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 exhibits the competitiveness in him as a result of the household all love one another dearly, however once they’re on the court docket, they’re competing. It’s one of many few fights at follow 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 outdated that basically hits. He’ll be 17 for his first 4 months of school since his birthday isn’t till December. Past the ability set, onerous 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 time, although, Cooper Flagg-mania hit a brand new tier. Except you spent the hotter months of 2023 residing underneath a rock, you possible noticed highlights of Cooper in your feed in some unspecified time in the future whereas scrolling in your telephone. His identify would development on Twitter periodically and movies of him completely manhandling his friends drew the eye of hoop followers and added hearth to the frenzy. This all led to an epic run on the Nike EYBL Peach Jam.

Taking part in for Maine United, which earlier within the spring appeared to be 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 staff went undefeated (4-0) in pool play on its approach to the championship recreation, the place they in the end fell quick. Flagg averaged 25.4 factors, 13.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists within the match and even had LeBron James strategy him at one level to cut it up—an interplay that made the rounds on-line.

It’d be robust 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 feel that I’m too versatile and an excessive amount of of a well-rounded participant that no staff 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 a lot of the issues that folks would see as difficult are an end result of some alternative that I’ve been given. It’s a must to have a look at it in that approach.”      

For Cooper, although, it wasn’t nearly surprising the world in main an unbeknownst AAU staff from Maine, of all locations, to the title recreation of essentially the most prestigious grassroots circuit on this planet—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 follow as a fourth grader. It was the end result of an nearly decade-long journey alongside some youngsters from The Pine Tree State with related hoop desires as his.        

Not lengthy after, Cooper discovered himself having to make one more high-stake, life-altering choice this previous summer time: keep in his present class and proceed to the dominate everybody in entrance of him, or reclassify up and be a part of the senior class of 2024, which might expedite his final dream of going professional in the future. He selected the latter, in fact.

And though everybody watched his meteoric rise this yr on social media, what they didn’t see was that behind the scenes, Cooper was taking summer time courses when he wasn’t touring across the nation and tearing up each occasion he stepped foot in, all with a purpose to put himself on monitor to have sufficient credit to reclassify as much as the Class of 2024.  

“It was actually robust as a result of after I was house, the primary factor I used to be doing was schoolwork,” Cooper says. “I needed to give attention to schoolwork over seeing my buddies that I hadn’t seen in months. Making an attempt to steadiness all these various things was robust however one thing that I needed to do.”

All these earlier selections led to this present choice, his most essential one but. Deciding between UConn and Duke. Cooper visited each campuses in latest 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 choice.

“I feel 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 harassed to me, that when you get to campus, it’s one thing you must really feel. And [I knew then] I wished to go to Duke and that’s the place I wished to play faculty 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 follow, and see how they had been holding their guys accountable, and actually pushing them to be higher. For me, ever since I used to be a bit child, I at all times had desires of taking part in 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 feel it’s going to be a extremely thrilling yr and [fans] ought to simply prepare as a result of I do know that I’m all about profitable, so I’m attempting 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 an alternative subsequent yr, in honor of his shut good friend Donovan Kurt, who attended Nokomis Regional again in Maine (he wore No. 2) and handed away final yr after a protracted battle with mind most cancers (go to right here to assist households of kids preventing most cancers in Maine).          

“[This] is one thing that I’m attempting to hold with me. [I want to] show that youngsters from Maine could make it in the event that they put their minds to it and so they actually work onerous sufficient,” says Cooper. “That’s one thing that I’m taking a number of pleasure in. It’s proving to everyone from Maine, the remainder of the nation, and world wide, that youngsters from Maine could make it.”     


Portraits by Marcus Stevens.

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