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

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

Amid the scorching summer heat of Southern Nevada, the 17-year-old Flagg put together an impressive display of all-around play in an exhibition game against the USA Basketball national team on Monday, a game that will undoubtedly go down in history as a fishing story as his promising career unfolds.

Members of the media were not allowed to watch the entire game between the Paris Olympic-bound national team, led by LeBron James and Stephen Curry, and the U.S. Select Team, made up mostly of young NBA players and Flagg, who will be a freshman at Duke this fall. No official statistics were kept for the traditional varsity vs. junior varsity affair, a USA Basketball official said. And national team coach Steve Kerr declined to comment on Flagg’s stellar performance, citing NBA rules that prohibit public comments about players who are not yet eligible for the draft.

Once the gym doors opened to reporters, though, Flagg was met with laughs and gasps as he took over the line of scrimmage with an 11-point surge to lead a Select Team comeback. The 39-year-old James, who knows a basketball prodigy when he sees one, sought out Flagg for a congratulatory pat on the backside after the National team narrowly held on for a 74-73 victory.

Flagg, a 6-foot-8 forward who became the first college player to earn a select team invite in more than a decade, showed why he’s expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA draft. The polished wing began his scoring spree with a three-pointer from the left corner over Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis and a post-up turnaround over Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday.

Then, with momentum building, the baby-faced Flagg brought the ball up the court, worked his way into an isolation against Davis and drilled a side-step three-pointer over perhaps the NBA’s best defender. After the National Team committed a turnover to find Davis in transition, Flagg took control of the ball and quickly pushed the ball to Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray, who missed a three-pointer from the left. Flagg sprinted the length of the court on the shot, leapt to grab the offensive rebound with both hands in traffic and completed a mid-air put-back while being fouled by Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo.

The sequence—the shot, the pass, the rebound, the finish—went instantly viral on social media, garnering millions of views within an hour. All told, Flagg had scored six points in less than 20 seconds, setting up a thrilling final game. Davis prevented an embarrassing defeat for the overwhelming gold medal favorites by blocking a potential game-winning jumper from Golden State Warriors guard Brandin Podziemski at the buzzer.

Flagg’s game-changing performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he is five years younger than Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, who is the youngest player on the national team. When Flagg was born on Dec. 21, 2006, James was in his fourth NBA season and on the verge of making his third All-Star appearance.

“I was just competing and trying as hard as I could,” Flagg said. “I gave it 100 percent. I’m confident in my abilities and my skills. I’m confident in who I am and what I can do. It’s a surreal feeling to be able to share the court [with the national team]. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be here. I had no worries. I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I’m here for a reason. I know that.”

Flagg’s appeal as a prospect comes from his excellent motor, strong athleticism and innate basketball intelligence, plus the do-it-all game he displayed in front of a crowd of several hundred on Monday. He’s an effective ball handler, a willing perimeter shooter, a physical rebounder, a finisher above the rim and a multi-positional defender who can handle assignments in the paint or on the perimeter — all in one package.

If Flagg develops into a player who can lead USA 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 select team was great,” Kerr said, smiling as he artfully avoided commenting directly on Flagg. “They challenged us. They were physical. They did a lot of the things the European teams do. It couldn’t have been better.”

The only person who didn’t seem to get caught up in the excitement was Flagg, who chatted with a couple of Duke Blue Devils colleagues — Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and USA Basketball executive Grant Hill — before casually recounting the afternoon’s events. Though Flagg grew up a Celtics fan and shaped his offensive approach by studying Tatum, he said he felt comfortable playing against a USA Basketball team that featured 12 all-stars and nearly as many future Hall of Famers.

“[There was some awe] “In the beginning, when I walked into the gym and saw all those players, but not anymore when we started playing,” he said. “As soon as the ball goes up, I’m just a competitor. It takes a little bit of getting used to being on the court with them, but at the same time, I’m just playing basketball and trying to win. [The national team players] have all been very welcoming. They just tell me to keep working and keep my feet on the ground.”

Flagg, who reclassified as a high school senior last fall and went on to lead Montverde Academy (Fla.) to an undefeated season and a national title, said he was “aiming for” a spot on USA Basketball’s roster for the 2027 FIBA ​​World Cup in Qatar. By then, he would be 20 years old and likely have completed a one-and-done freshman campaign at Duke and two NBA seasons.

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

“They can be any team they want to be,” he said. “They have no weaknesses, no holes. They can play any style and dominate. It’s going to be a dominant team that imposes its will on everyone they see.”

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