Keep Your Eyes On The Grand Young Flagg

It’s summer pro league season, which means a lot of recent college graduates are congregating in sweltering Western outposts, and this year that includes the usually more temperate locales of Sacramento, San Francisco and Salt Lake City, where several mini tournaments of teams representing NBA teams are already off and running before the entire league converges upon Las Vegas for the now ten-day juggernaut sponsored by 2K25.  But this year, Las Vegas has had the bonus of being the first stop for the U.S. Olympic team (not to mention a couple of others that will be joining them in Paris), and those incredibly talented superstars are coming together in the hopes of bringing gold back with them.

Yet for all of the experience and hoopla that was in evidence over the past few days, all of the headlines and memes were dominated by someone from Team USA’s competition.  And he has yet to play a single minute at even the college level.

Hard-core hoopheads already knew the name of the phenomenon that USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt raved about yesterday.  But a goodly amount of them had yet to see him in action, certainly not against the caliber of competition he went up against.  And let’s just say that if yet another remake of A STAR IS BORN is attempted, they would be more than justified in basing it around this:

Cooper Flagg’s sequence against the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team had more than the Internet buzzing with hyperbolic praise.

Those inside the gym – which included Olympians, future Hall of Famers, NBA and college coaches and team executives – where the scrimmage took place raved about Flagg’s performance for the U.S. select team during three days of practice and scrimmages with the U.S. Olympic team.

He made a 3-pointer over All-NBA Defense selection Anthony Davis and on the next possession, he had a putback plus an and-one over Bam Adebayo, another All-Defense performer. He also made another 3-pointer against Davis and connected on a short turnaround jumper over Jrue Holiday, yet another All-Defense selection this season.

And Flagg is just 17 years old.

And the reporter who will soon have the joy of reporting on Flagg’s likely truncated college career, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Duke Blue Devils specialist Matt Giles, waxed even more poetic:

Cooper Flagg mania isn’t even in full effect just yet. And the 17-year-old Duke basketball freshman forward is already a viral sensation, rivaling the hype that surrounded eventual No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson upon his arrival in Durham six years ago.

The 6-foot-9, 205-pound phenom can’t help but attract all the headlines. Flagg, No. 1 overall on the 247Sports 2024 Composite, is simply an advanced talent with go-go-gadget arms and insane instincts on both ends of the floor who now fills Blue Devil fans’ summer days with goosebumps galore by showcasing his full repertoire against many of the best hoopsters on the planet.

Flagg, the pride of Maine and highlight of Duke’s top-ranked rookie class, is the only collegian on the USA Basketball Select Team in Las Vegas. He’s teammates there with promising young pros training alongside the USA Basketball National Team, including 2016-17 Duke basketball one-and-done forward and Boston Celtics champion Jayson Tatum, as Team USA gears up for the upcoming 2024 Olympic Summer Games in Paris.

Yes, Flagg hails from Maine, that hotbed of collegiate and professional talent, although his high school exploits occurred in a more hoop-friendly environment, as Zillgitt described:

At Montverde (Florida) Academy in 2023-24, Flagg averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 blocks and 1.6 steals and shot 54.8% from the field. He was the Gatorade and Naismith high school player of the year in 2024. While Flagg downplays pressure, there is growing sentiment that Flagg can become the next great American-born basketball player.

And as the US team ironically heads to France, the home of the last two #1 NBA draft picks (let alone four more members of this year’s first round), where they will be facing extremely stiff competition and a loud, partisan believing crowd, that talking point will likely become increasingly prevalent, particularly if the USA should happen to stumble at some point to someone else besides a team led by Flagg.

As Zillgitt concluded:

The 2027 FIBA World Cup and 2028 Los Angeles Olympics seem far away, and Flagg hasn’t even played one college basketball game, but those events are on his mind.

“That’s something I’m striving for, just trying to be the best I can and if I can achieve that and then join the World Cup team in (three) years, that’s another goal on my list,” he said.

And who knows?  At this rate, by that time Flagg may be an even more familiar and auspiced professional than even the vaunted Victor Wembanyama, and depending upon the luck of the draw might even be sporting a ring, or at least well on his way to it.  And all before he’s legally eligible to drink in public.

Giles posted this 16-minute video compilation of the scrimmage where the Select team was barely edged by Team USA.  The 74-73 score is almost immaterial, but it should point out both potential and, yes, vulnerability on the part of players.  Forgot for a moment about the actual son of one of these players.  Flagg could easily be the son of several of them, and I bet after this more than a few kinda wish he was.

This is the first time I’ve been motivated to write about him.  I have a hunch it won’t be the last.

Courage…

 

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