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Team USA raves about Cooper Flagg, the 17-year-old standout at Olympic training camp


Team USA raves about Cooper Flagg, the 17-year-old standout at Olympic training camp

LAS VEGAS — Cooper Flagg is leaving Las Vegas as the talk of the now-concluded Team USA training camp.

Flagg, 17, an incoming freshman at Duke and an early favorite as the No. 1 pick of the 2025 NBA Draft, is not on the team headed for Paris and a possible fifth Olympic gold medal. But he was the best player on the select team and one of the most consistent players on the court during three scrimmages over the last three days against the national team of stars.

“Cooper Flagg was unbelievable,” said Jim Boylen, assistant coach for both the select team and the Indiana Pacers. “He’s not scared.”

“He showed no fear,” added Jalen Duren, center for the Detroit Pistons and the select team. “He came and worked hard every day. You would think he’s already here, you know what I mean?”

“Coop was playing out of his mind,” added Jaime Jaquez Jr., a select team player who also plays for the Miami Heat.

“He wants it, you see how bad he wants it,” said Devin Booker, of the U.S. national team.

That was just a sampling.

A final points tally for Flagg was not immediately available, but U.S. coaches and executives estimated Flagg scored between 14 and 17 points in a narrow 74-73 loss to Team USA on Monday. And in the portion of the scrimmage open to the media, Flagg drained a corner 3 and then executed an audacious putback over the American defense to put the select team ahead, 69-68, with less than 2 minutes left. Flagg missed the ensuing free throw.

Team USA won thanks to consecutive 3s by Booker and then Jrue Holiday (who was tasked with guarding Flagg — a compliment to the Duke freshman because Holiday is one of the best defenders in the NBA). Anthony Davis swatted away Brandin Podziemski’s potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.

One of Flagg’s 3s came against Davis, which Jaquez said was retribution from a block Davis registered on Flagg in Sunday’s scrimmage.

“He got blocked yesterday, and today he came right back and hit it in his face,” Jaquez said. “Right after that he got the and-1 putback, so those few plays, and he got a steal in there. He was incredible today.”

Flagg, a 6-foot-9 forward, is the first college player to participate in a Team USA training camp since Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott in 2013. He is not the first select team player to disrupt a USA training camp by shining as brightly as the team of stars. For instance, last year Cade Cunningham drew similar reviews.

But Cunningham had already been in the NBA for two seasons, and part of why his select team stint drew such praise was because he was coming off a knee injury that had cost him most of his second year in Detroit.

Flagg is, well, not old enough to vote. But his competitiveness belies his youth.

“I just think that he’s got a competitive fire, and he’s not afraid of anyone and he’s gonna go at you,” said Trayce Jackson-Davis, the 24-year-old Golden State Warriors big man who is coming off of his rookie season. “You need that as a player. And when you’re already like that, and you’re 17, the sky’s the limit.”

The select team was dismissed after Monday’s practice, as the national team will have a walk-through on Tuesday and play Canada in an exhibition game on Wednesday night in Las Vegas before flying to Abu Dhabi. Duke coach Jon Scheyer and two of his assistants were in Las Vegas to watch Flagg, as were Flagg’s parents.

Flagg was a member of the USA under-17 team that won gold at the World Cup in 2022, and this past season was both the Gatorade and the Naismith Boys’ National Player of the Year in high school, out of Montverde Academy in Florida.

All are lofty accolades, but not quite the same as holding his own against NBA champions, Olympic gold medalists and all-time leading scorers.

“Once the ball goes up, I’m just trying to win at all times,” Flagg said, explaining why he was not awe-struck by his surroundings in Las Vegas despite his age. “I’m just a competitor, and that’s what it boils down to. It’s a little bit of an adjustment, being on the court with them, but at the same time I’m just playing basketball and trying to learn.”

In numerous interviews, USA staff and select team players gushed over Flagg’s skills and size. But also his mental capacity.

“He’s got that confidence about himself that he’s not afraid of moments, and I think that’s really big for young kids, especially someone his age,” said select team coach Jamahl Mosley, also the coach of the Orlando Magic.

Langston Galloway, a former NBA player and longtime USA Basketball player who serves as a practice player for the national team, became an instant fan of Flagg’s game.

“I’m not even impressed about the scoring and all that; I’m more impressed about his poise,” Galloway said. “He’s not out there trying to force it like, ‘It’s my turn now. Let me try to get a shot up.’ He’s trying to make plays. You can see he obviously understands the game. Get in the paint, everybody collapses, making the right reads. So that’s the most impressive part of it, for a 17-year-old to be able to understand the game.”

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Boylen, a former head coach in the NBA and also a past coach of USA teams that qualified the country for the 2023 World Cup, said Flagg will make an excellent player on the international stage. After this summer, the men’s national team won’t be in action again until the 2027 World Cup in Qatar and the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

By the time the next Olympics roll around, Flagg will likely have three years of NBA service under his belt.

“He has versatility, he has position size, he’s a smart player and he embraces contact,” Boylen said.

Flagg confirmed he is interested in a World Cup appearance in three years if his game continues to develop.

“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 two years, I mean, that’s another goal on my list,” Flagg said. “I’m just working and trying to get better every day.”

Galloway left the Flagg experience understanding why experts say Flagg will go first in the next NBA Draft.

“I think today was a solidifier (showing) where he’ll be at next year,” Galloway said. “This year, obviously, he’ll be at Duke. But next year, you see where he’ll be at.”

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(Photo of LeBron James and Cooper Flagg: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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