Future Starts Now

Beyond the Hardwood: Cooper Flagg reaches new heights

The Newport, Maine, native has drawn attention for his prep career and prepares for even more attention at Duke.

Montverde phenom Cooper Flagg is entering a busy spring before his next chapter at Duke in the summer.

Basketball phenom Cooper Flagg and his hometown of Newport, Maine, had something in common roughly two years ago: their relative anonymity.

An Elite Youth Basketball League game in 2022 between Flagg’s club team, Maine United, and Nightrydas Elite from South Florida was where things changed for Flagg and Newport. All on-court communication and sneaker squeaks could be heard, alluding to the hollowness of the gym at Riverview Park Activities Center in Augusta, Ga. 

Nobody was watching.

It was clear a few minutes after tip-off that Flagg was the best player at this event. Fast forward 17 hours for Maine United’s next match, and the once-empty gym at Riverview Park was packed with spectators and college coaches.

Flagg and his town were officially on the map. The then 15-year-old would soon ascend to superstar status.

“I’ve maximized what I could get out of my high school career,” Flagg said when reflecting on his basketball journey. “I think I’m the highest level of competitor in the world. I want to win at all costs and I do whatever it takes [to win].”

Shipping South 

After earning a state championship at Nokomis Regional High School, while becoming the first freshman to win Maine Gatorade Player of the Year, Flagg moved to Florida and transferred to Montverde Academy. The school has 10 basketball teams with 120 players, producing countless current and former NBA players. 

The allure of competing against the top teams in the country and being coached by a legend (Kevin Boyle) made Flagg’s transfer decision an easy one.

Flagg, known for his competitive nature and quiet confidence, said there were some hardships he experienced with the cross-coastal move to the Sunshine State.

“I was kind of scared at first because I haven’t been in a situation like this before,” Flagg said. “I’ve been with my same group of friends since I was little, but it made it easier to have my twin (Ace) to acclimate and meet new people while having a safe place in a dorm that’s private.”

It makes sense why Cooper Flagg enjoys solitude from time to time with all of the recognition he’s gotten of late. He will be competing in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Chipotle National Championships, the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoops Summit in April. In March, Flagg was named the Naismith Prep and National Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Montverde is traditionally loaded with top-flight and NBA-level talent each season, but many pundits think this year’s team, which is 30-0, is the school’s best yet. 

“He’s the best primary defender I’ve ever seen at his age, and probably the best shot blocker I’ve seen under 7 feet,” said Brendan Marks, college basketball writer at The Athletic. “I don’t remember the last time a high schooler was this well-known nationally.”

Destination: Durham

Flagg receives a warm welcome during a visit to Duke’s campus in Durham, N.C.

Flagg’s next destination is a point of equidistance between Newport and Montverde: Duke University. 

Predecessors such as Christian Laettner, Elton Brand and Jay Williams — all of whom were NBA lottery picks — helped form Duke into a national power. Current NBA stars and lottery picks like Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson have maintained the standard of excellence in the modern era. 

Flagg understands the expectations and the scrutiny he’ll be under, but thinks nothing of it at the same time.

“I don’t put any of that pressure on myself,” Flagg said. “If I can stay on the path, I have a pretty good chance to accomplish my goals and dreams. I’m just trying to keep my head down and keep working.”

Flagg’s simple goals

The motor and blue-collar mentality Flagg possesses might be his strongest asset on the court. To many, he is a modern-day mix of former Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko mixed with a Amar’e Stoudemire’s heyday with the Phoenix Suns. At the very least, it can be hard to compare his unique style of play to any current player.

“He’s the complete player,” said Krysten Peek, a draft analyst for Yahoo. “The first thing that stands out is his defensive versatility, footwork, and how he can guard positions all over the court.

“He plays tough all the time and is a winner … the more he plays, the more people learn about him.” 

Flagg says his goals at Duke mirror his current ones, namely to improve daily and win. But first, Flagg aims to hoist the championship trophy at the Chipotle Nationals. He’ll arrive in Durham shortly after his busy April concludes.

His focus will continue to be the present. Expectations also don’t phase high school basketball’s top prospect, as Flagg says he knows developing into the player he desires to become is a process.

“I think we’re going to be talking about him sort of in the Chet [Holmgren] and Wemby (Victor Wembanyama) space,” Peek said. “He’s going to have a very long career in the NBA because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to impact the game. Sky’s the limit.”