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Cooper Flagg Declares 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 largest story in highschool basketball originates.  

It’s right here the place probably the most extremely touted highschool prospects in latest reminiscence started his hoops odyssey.

A journey that technically might be traced again to the early Nineteen Nineties. That’s when Cooper Flagg’s mom, Kelly, was turning heads on the hardwood at Nokomis Regional Excessive Faculty on her approach to scoring 1,257 profession factors. Nokomis would change into the identical faculty the place nearly three many years later, one in every 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 12 months, when she was the crew 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 faculty child. Trying to problem him, she enrolled him on a 4th grade rec league crew—as a 2nd grader. 

“I keep in mind the ball was going out of bounds on the baseline, the opposite crew’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 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 recollects. “It was obvious to us that 12 months when the rec season ended that he wanted extra. That’s not 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 or 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 12 months, we bought him on a crew as a 3rd grader with fifth grade boys. That was a extremely good match for him. Their crew performed extra of a 5 in, 5 out fashion.”

I keep in mind the primary couple of practices simply being actually powerful. I’d come out actually drained and exhausted,” says Cooper. “I believe I had a bunch of bruises. It was simply actually tough to start out 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 could possibly 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 dad and mom at all times pushed me to play in opposition to older competitors. It helped me to develop quite a bit earlier.”

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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 ladies’s basketball head coach on the College of Maine and expressed curiosity in having her sons be a part of the youth crew 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 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 Jap Maine Neighborhood School) and the boys’ continued growth, they determined to make the journey a number of instances per week, on weekdays. At instances, these journeys even included quite a few relations and automobile swaps. When Kelly wasn’t in a position to drive the boys all the way in which 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 way in which to follow.

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

To assist go 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 information, serving as a approach to be taught the sport’s historical past whereas additionally doubling as elite movie research periods… and three-plus hours of a lot wanted in-car leisure.

“We might at all times both have the ‘85 or ‘86 Celtics championship video games on or the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Chook films. It instilled Chook’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 crew that performed in opposition to 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 12 months within the fall of 2021 below a singular set of circumstances. With the world nonetheless reeling from the results 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 supplied. On the crew 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 crew was actually dangerous for years main as much as that 12 months and that run that they had,” Kelly says. “They had been 1-17 for 2 years in a row. In Hunter’s junior 12 months, they had been 3-15. Hunter was an enormous who bought 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 sport in center faculty. The thrill that his identify was producing within the state of Maine round basketball was extraordinary earlier than he even performed his first highschool sport. 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 although it was a tricky capsule to swallow. All of the seniors had been so gracious and had been simply excited to have a profitable crew. Even the dad and mom of the senior boys had been wonderful.”

That season ended up being one for the ages. The crew went 21-1 on their approach 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 explicit outing the place he dropped 32 factors, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 blocks and three steals in an early January sport.   

“[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 12 months basically 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 crew was going to be as a result of we had a fall ball crew that had been enjoying collectively because the summer time. Ace and I had been enjoying up with the varsity [team] throughout the summer time.”   

As if the Flaggs’ story to this point wasn’t already a Hollywood-type script, the story behind the supporting forged of that championship crew actually drives residence 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 faculty. A reminder of simply how small the Newport neighborhood actually is.  

After the movie-esque season, although, got here a tough choice. The household needed to determine between persevering with their highschool careers at Nokomis or making the sacrifice of relocating in quest of an opportunity to take their video games to the following 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. Other than 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 enjoying a top-notch nationwide schedule that competes in opposition to the nation’s high expertise. It’s been thought to be the closest factor to a DI program at the highschool degree. The truth is, 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 excellent, from Maine of all locations, and so they had 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 might simply see he had a competitiveness and athleticism that at minimally, he was going to be an excellent participant.”  

The transfer to Montverde helped elevate Cooper’s profile on a nationwide scale whereas additionally taking his sport up a notch. In 2022, he grew to become the youngest ever USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Yr.

The aggressive aspect of Cooper isn’t any extra evident than if 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 protected from it, not even his personal mom. 

Numerous hours spent within the driveway battling in opposition to each of [my brothers]. Too many fights to recollect. Simply loads of enjoyable we used to have enjoying in opposition to 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 bought harm once we had 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 sport to 11, however then she bought harm.”

“That’s not precisely the way in which I keep 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 certain had I not torn my meniscus, I’d have come again and crushed him in that sport. I drove to the left and did a tough soar cease. He went flying, and I’d 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 crushed me.

I didn’t play them that always,” 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 a minimum of a number of instances per 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 combat 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 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 character, he laughs for a couple 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 after they had been on opposing groups,” Boyle says. “They bought snarled in a couple of performs and we needed to break them up after throwing punches at one another. It’s a superb story as a result of it simply exhibits the competitiveness in him as a result of the household all love one another dearly, however after 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 sport 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 school since his birthday isn’t till December. Past the talent set, exhausting 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 below a rock, you probably noticed highlights of Cooper in your feed in some unspecified time in the future whereas scrolling in your telephone. 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.

Taking part in for Maine United, which earlier within the spring seemed 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 report, the crew went undefeated (4-0) in pool play on its approach to the championship sport, the place they finally fell brief. 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 powerful for anyone to do a scouting report on me when it comes to how they’re going to take me out of a sport,” Cooper says. “They will take sure elements of my sport away, however I believe that I’m too versatile and an excessive amount of of a well-rounded participant that no crew can take me out of the sport.

“By way of difficult, I don’t actually know if I might say one thing that’s actually difficult as a result of a lot of the issues that folks would see as difficult are an consequence of some alternative that I’ve been given. It’s important to have a look at it in that method.”      

For Cooper, although, it wasn’t nearly stunning the world in main an unbeknownst AAU crew from Maine, of all locations, to the title sport of essentially the most prestigious grassroots circuit on the planet—all after barely sustaining a .500 report 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 comparable hoop desires as his.        

Not lengthy after, Cooper discovered himself having to make yet 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 someday. He selected the latter, in fact.

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 time 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 monitor to have sufficient credit to reclassify as much as the Class of 2024.  

“It was actually powerful as a result of once I was residence, the principle factor I used to be doing was schoolwork,” Cooper says. “I needed to deal with schoolwork over seeing my buddies that I hadn’t seen in months. Attempting to steadiness all these various things was powerful however one thing that I needed to do.”

All these earlier selections led to this present choice, his most vital 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 believe after I bought on campus at Duke, I actually began to really feel it, to be sincere,” he says. “That’s one thing the coaches positively pressured to me, that after 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 on the lookout for a training workers I used to be actually comfy with, however [also] a coach and workers that was actually going to carry me accountable. Being on the go to, I bought 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 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 bought 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 taking a look at some day and somebody they will see themselves being. Particularly from all of the love I noticed this final weekend once I was there, it made me actually excited, all of the [Cameron] Crazies and the followers. I believe it’s going to be a extremely 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 sporting 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 pal 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 right here to assist households of youngsters preventing most cancers in Maine).          

“[This] is one thing that I’m making an attempt 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 exhausting sufficient,” says Cooper. “That’s one thing that I’m taking loads of delight in. It’s proving to all people from Maine, the remainder of the nation, and all over the world, that youngsters from Maine could make it.”     


Portraits by Marcus Stevens.



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