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

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

Amid the scorching summer season warmth of Southern Nevada, the 17-year-old Flagg authored a formidable stretch of all-around play in a scrimmage in opposition to USA Basketball’s nationwide staff on Monday that’s sure to be mythologized like a fishing story as his promising profession unfolds.

Media members weren’t allowed to observe your complete scrimmage between the nationwide staff that’s headed to the Paris Olympics, led by LeBron James and Stephen Curry, and the USA choose staff, which was composed primarily of younger NBA gamers and Flagg, who might be a freshman at Duke this fall. Official stats weren’t saved for the standard varsity vs. junior varsity affair, in response to a USA Basketball official. And Steve Kerr, coach of the nationwide staff, declined to remark about Flagg’s sterling present, citing NBA guidelines that prohibit public statements about gamers who aren’t but draft eligible.

As quickly because the health club doorways opened to reporters, although, Flagg drew chuckles and gasps by taking up the scrimmage with an 11-point flurry to steer a choose staff comeback. The 39-year-old James, who is aware of a hoops prodigy when he sees one, sought out Flagg for a congratulatory pat on the butt after the nationwide staff barely held on for a 74-73 victory.

Flagg, a 6-foot-8 ahead who grew to become the primary school participant to earn a choose staff invite in additional than a decade, confirmed why he’s projected to be the No. 1 decide within the 2025 NBA draft. The polished wing began his scoring burst with a three-pointer from the left nook over Los Angeles Lakers middle Anthony Davis and a post-up turnaround over Boston Celtics guard Jrue Vacation.

Then, with momentum constructing, the baby-faced Flagg introduced the ball up the court docket, labored his means into an isolation in opposition to Davis and drilled a side-step three-pointer over arguably the NBA’s greatest defensive participant. After the nationwide staff dedicated a turnover looking for Davis in transition, Flagg took management of the ball and shortly pushed the ball forward to Sacramento Kings ahead Keegan Murray, who missed a three-pointer from the left angle. Flagg sprinted the size of the court docket through the shot, jumped to seize the offensive rebound with each arms in site visitors and completed a midair putback whereas being fouled by Miami Warmth middle Bam Adebayo.

The sequence — the shot, the go, the rebound and the end — immediately went viral across social media, garnering hundreds of thousands of views inside an hour. All advised, Flagg had scored six factors in lower than 20 seconds to arrange a tense endgame. Davis prevented an embarrassing loss for the overwhelming gold medal favorites by blocking a possible game-winning jumper by Golden State Warriors guard Brandin Podziemski on the buzzer.

Flagg’s game-changing efficiency was made much more exceptional by the truth that he’s 5 years youthful than Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, who’s the nationwide staff’s youngest participant. When Flagg was born on Dec. 21, 2006, James was in his fourth NBA season and about to make his third all-star look.

“I used to be simply competing and making an attempt as exhausting as I can,” Flagg stated. “Giving it 100%. I’m assured in my means and talent. I’m assured in who I’m and what I can do. It’s a surreal feeling having the ability to share the court docket [with the national team]. I’m blessed to have this chance to be right here. I had no worries. I didn’t put any strain on myself. I’m right here for a cause. I do know that. ”

Flagg’s attraction as a prospect owes to his glorious motor, sturdy athletic instruments and innate basketball intelligence, plus the do-everything recreation he displayed Monday in entrance of some hundred onlookers. He’s an efficient ballhandler, a prepared outdoors shooter, a bodily rebounder, an above-the-rim finisher and a multipositional defender who can deal with assignments within the paint or on the perimeter — all rolled into one package deal.

If Flagg blossoms right into a participant able to taking the reins of USA Basketball, his fearless displaying on the College of Nevada, Las Vegas, might be remembered because the second he first proved he might maintain his personal in opposition to one of the best on the earth.

“The choose staff was nice,” Kerr stated, smiling as he artfully dodged commenting straight about Flagg. “They challenged us. They had been bodily. They ran loads of stuff the European groups will run. It couldn’t have labored out any higher.”

The one one who didn’t look like caught up within the pleasure was Flagg, who chatted with a pair of fellow Duke Blue Devils — Celtics ahead Jayson Tatum and USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill — earlier than nonchalantly recounting the afternoon’s occasions. Although Flagg grew up as a Celtics fan and normal his offensive method by learning Tatum, he stated he felt comfy enjoying in opposition to a USA Basketball staff composed of 12 all-stars and almost as many future Corridor of Famers.

“[There was some awe] at first, strolling into the health club seeing all these gamers, however not as soon as we began enjoying,” he stated. “As soon as the ball goes up, I’m only a competitor. It’s a little bit little bit of an adjustment being on the court docket with them, however on the identical time I’m simply enjoying basketball and making an attempt to win. [The national team players] have all been fairly welcoming. They’re simply telling me to maintain working and keep grounded.”

Flagg, who reclassified to be a highschool senior final fall after which led Montverde Academy (Fla.) to an undefeated season and a nationwide title, stated he was “striving for” a spot on USA Basketball’s roster for the 2027 FIBA World Cup roster in Qatar. By that time, he could be 20 years previous and sure have accomplished a one-and-done freshman marketing campaign at Duke and two NBA seasons.

Within the meantime, Flagg expects the nationwide staff to safe its fifth consecutive gold medal in Paris subsequent month.

“They are often any staff they need to be,” he stated. “They haven’t any weaknesses, no holes. They will play any kind of means and dominate. It’s going to be a dominant staff that asserts their will on everyone they see.”

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