Hailing from a rural Maine city of not more than 3,200, a 16-year-old child is taking part in basketball at a stage no person from the state has earlier than.
Newport native Cooper Flagg was a Maine state champion and the Gatorade Participant of the Yr as a freshman in early 2022. Lower than a year-and-a-half later, he has earned the title of consensus No. 1 prospect nationwide, and just lately had a high-profile first official faculty go to — to UConn, winner of the 2023 NCAA championship.
The 6-foot-9 teenager is anticipated to decide on between UConn, Duke and Kansas within the subsequent couple months, play a season of school ball in 2024-25 after which, if latest historical past is any indication, be a lottery choose within the 2025 NBA Draft.
The final 5 No. 1 prospects, Marvin Bagley III, R.J. Barrett, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cunningham and Chet Holmgren, all had profitable one-year faculty careers and had been drafted by NBA groups with high three picks.
However what’s so unprecedented about Flagg, in contrast with these earlier than him, is the unbelievable nature of his rise to prominence.
Regardless of its deep basketball tradition, Maine is one in every of two states to by no means produce an NBA participant, and its flagship college in Orono has by no means certified for the lads’s NCAA event. Towards all odds, Flagg has emerged as the game’s most enjoyable prospect, at a time when participation in youth sports activities is at a statewide low, and COVID-19 took away his eighth-grade 12 months of basketball.
“You’ll be able to’t predict something prefer it,” stated Earl Anderson, Flagg’s coach at Nokomis Regional Excessive. “It’s like a Hollywood film.”
Anderson coached Nokomis’ first ever state championship crew, which Cooper and his twin brother Ace led to glory through the 2021-22 season.
“There have been plenty of wild moments with him on the courtroom; his capability was uncanny,” Anderson stated. “I can’t let you know what number of youngsters would line up for autographs.”
Flagg’s predecessors are few and much between.
There are Maine Basketball Corridor of Famers Skip Chappelle and Andy Bedard, the York-born Miami Warmth capturing guard Duncan Robinson and Bangor-born massive man Jeff Turner who performed on the ’90s Orlando Magic.
However neither Chappelle nor Bedard ever performed a minute of NBA ball, and Robinson and Turner spent most of their childhoods in New Hampshire and Florida, respectively.
Furthermore, UMaine’s males’s basketball crew has not been notably inspirational as of late, failing to succeed in .500 for the reason that 2010-11 season and compiling a dismal 88-259 file since then.
But Flagg is a Newport product by way of and thru — and he could possibly be a high choose within the 2025 NBA Draft.
“This space will all the time think about him a Nokomis child, and he’ll embrace that,” Anderson stated. “That championship crew was a really shut group; they’d all performed collectively as youngsters.”
The Flaggs have lived in Newport for a number of generations, and each of Cooper’s mother and father performed basketball at Nokomis. His mother, Kelly, ended up being a standout put up participant at UMaine, and his dad, Ralph, performed at Japanese Maine Neighborhood Faculty.
“Of all their highschool reminiscences, that Nokomis championship will all the time be primary for them,” Flagg’s private coach Matt MacKenzie stated of Cooper and Ace. “They’re each very family-oriented and pleased with their Newport roots.”
MacKenzie runs Outcomes Basketball and the Japanese Maine Sports activities Academy in Veazie, and in addition was an assistant coach on Flagg’s Maine United AAU crew that went on an sudden second-place run on the Nike Peach Jam this July.
Maine United shocked everybody by profitable its first six consecutive video games, together with a 73-65 victory over event champs NightRydas Elite in pool play, with Flagg averaging a mind-blowing 25.4 factors, 13.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 6.9 blocks per recreation.
“No one else believed, and we stated, ‘let’s go make some noise,’” MacKenzie recalled. “Cooper may have performed anyplace, however he wished to play together with his boys — to put on ‘Maine’ throughout his chest.”
Along with his ridiculous blocks and putback dunks, Cooper ended up on dozens of YouTube and Instagram spotlight reels with hundreds of views, posted by sports activities media retailers like Time beyond regulation, Ballislife and EliteMixtapes.
“There are children from all backgrounds — the interior metropolis — wanting as much as a child from Maine,” MacKenzie stated. “We’re simply beginning to see the influence he may have.”
Anderson and MacKenzie are optimistic that Flagg may even assist reverse the declining participation charges in Maine youth sports activities.
As a consequence of a big lower within the inhabitants of high-school-aged Mainers prior to now decade, mixed with the pandemic, youth sports activities participation in Maine is down 12 p.c from 2013.
However Flagg is devoted to being an envoy of the game, and has labored at Outcomes Basketball’s youth camps throughout his summers off from college. MacKenzie says contributors have been ecstatic to coach with him.
“The vitality has shifted from taking part in with counselors like NBA champion [Brian Scalabrine] of the Boston Celtics to Cooper,” MacKenzie stated. “Everybody needs to see him.”
Flagg is now again ending his last 12 months at Montverde Academy in Florida, the place he helped the Eagles win a nationwide title final season. He just lately reclassified to the Class of 2024, that means his faculty choice is weeks away — the last word step in any basketball profession earlier than declaring for the NBA draft.
It’s unclear how Flagg will fare when he strikes on to school and even the professionals, however his intangibles make folks round him wish to consider in his future.
“He impacted each a part of the sport — he made everybody else higher,” Anderson stated. “He’s very coachable, very grounded and a fantastic teammate.”
“It’s uncommon, however to me his success isn’t an accident,” MacKenzie stated. “He has a blue-collar work ethic and was taught from a younger age that success is earned, not given. He genuinely loves the sport, likes to be coached and completely lives to compete. It’s scary how particular he could possibly be.”