At a USA Basketball camp, teenage prodigy Cooper Flagg steals the show

LAS VEGAS — Before Cooper Flagg emerged as the world’s leading teenage basketball player, he spent childhood winters ice fishing in Maine with his father and two brothers.

Amid the sweltering summer heat of southern Nevada, the 17-year-old Flagg wrote an impressive stretch of all-around play in Monday’s scrimmage against the USA Basketball national team, one that is as mythic as a fishing tale as his promising career unfolds. .

Members of the media were not allowed to watch the entire scrimmage between the national team headed to the Paris Olympics, led by LeBron James and Stephen Curry, and the USA selection team, which consisted primarily of young NBA players and Flagg. A freshman at Duke this fall. According to USA Basketball officials, no official statistics are kept regarding the traditional varsity vs. junior varsity issue. Steve Kerr, the national team coach, declined to comment on Flagg’s sterling performance, citing NBA rules that prohibit public statements about players who have not yet qualified for the draft.

As the gym doors opened to reporters, Flock drew laughs and gasps by leading an elite team’s comeback with an 11-point buzzer beater. James, 39, who knows a bracelet when he sees one, looked for the flag for a congratulatory song after the Nationals’ 74-73 win.

Flagg, a 6-foot-8 forward who became the first college player in more than a decade to earn a select team invitation, showed why he is projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft. The polished wing began his scoring outburst with a three-pointer from the left corner over Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis and a rebound over Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday.

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Then, to build momentum, the baby-faced flag brought the ball up the court, isolated against Davis and drilled a side-step three-pointer over the NBA’s best defender. After the Nationals tried to find Davis, Flack controlled the ball and quickly pushed the ball to Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray, who missed a three-pointer from the left corner. Flagg sprinted the length of the court during a shot, jumped to grab an offensive rebound with both hands in traffic and finished off a putback in midair when fouled by Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo.

The sequence – shot, pass, rebound and finish – is instantaneous It went viral on social media, received millions of views within an hour. Flagg scored six points in less than 20 seconds to set up a tense endgame. Davis prevented an embarrassing loss for the gold medalists by blocking a potential game-winning jumper by Golden State Warriors guard Brandin Potziemski at the buzzer.

Flagg’s game-changing performance was made even more remarkable by the fact that he was five years younger than the national team’s youngest player, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards. When Flagg was born on December 21, 2006, James was in his fourth NBA season and about to make his third All-Star appearance.

“I’ve been competing and trying as hard as I can,” Flag said. “Giving 100 percent. I’m confident in my skills and abilities. I’m confident in who I am and what I can do. Sharing the court is a surreal feeling. [with the national team]. I am blessed to have this opportunity to be here. I have no worries. I don’t put any pressure on myself. I’m here for a reason. I know. “

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Flagg as a prospect needs to do everything he can with his great motor, strong athletic tools and innate basketball intelligence, and he showed it on Monday in front of a few hundred spectators. He’s a skilled rebounder, a willing outside shooter, a physical rebounder, an above-the-rim finisher and a multi-position defender who can handle assignments in the paint or on the perimeter — all rolled into one package.

If Flack blossoms into a player capable of taking over America’s basketball, his fearless performance at the University of Nevada Las Vegas will be remembered as the moment he first proved he could hold his own against the world’s best.

“The selection team was great,” said Kerr, who was artfully deceiving when commenting directly on the flag. “They challenged us. They were physical. They ran a lot of things that European teams run. It couldn’t have worked out better. “

One person who didn’t seem caught up in the excitement was Flagg, who chatted with a pair of Duke Blue Devils — Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and USA Basketball executive director Grant Hill. Although Flagg grew up a Celtics fan and shaped his offensive approach by studying Tatum, he said he was comfortable playing against a USA Basketball team that featured 12 All-Stars and nearly as many future Hall of Famers.

“[There was some awe] At first, we walked into the gym seeing all those players, but we didn’t start playing,” he said. “If the ball goes up, I’m a competitor. Being on the court with them is a bit of an adjustment, but at the same time I’m just trying to play basketball and win. [The national team players] All are well received. They tell me to keep working and stay grounded.

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Flagg, who reclassified as a high school senior last fall and then led Montverde Academy (Fla.) to an undefeated season and a national title, said he will try to earn a spot on the USA Basketball roster for the 2027 FIBA ​​World Cup. Qatar. At that point, he’ll be 20 years old and likely just finished a freshman year at Duke and two NBA seasons.

Meanwhile, Flagg expects the national team to win its fifth consecutive gold medal in Paris next month.

“They can be any team they want,” he said. “They have no weaknesses, no holes. They can play any style and dominate. This will be a dominant team that will assert their will on everyone they see.

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