Cooper Flagg takes advantage of his opportunity to play against U.S. Olympic team

LAS VEGAS — A 3-pointer over Anthony Davis, swish. A baseline turnaround over Jrue Holiday, easy. An acrobatic putback after crashing the boards and getting fouled by Bam Adebayo, no problem.

Those are three of the best defenders in the NBA.

Cooper Flagg is 17 years old. He held his own against them all.

The story of practice for the U.S. Olympic basketball team on Monday was Flagg, who hasn’t even played his first college game yet. The Duke freshman — part of the select team that was invited to work out against the Olympic squad during their training camp and widely believed to be in the mix as the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft — looked totally at ease going against some of the NBA’s biggest names.

“The opportunity, it was great,” Flagg said. “It was a blessing to be here. I think just the physicality, and just the level of where I want to get to, there’s a lot to get better at, a lot where I need to keep improving. This showed just how big the details are.”

He will surely get better. That might be a scary concept.

“He kicked butt here,” U.S. select team coach Jamahl Mosley of the Orlando Magic said. “There’s a respect factor for what he’s done. People who have not seen him play, as he gets himself going within the game, they quickly see what he can do.”

The select team is typically made up of young NBA players, brought in to scrimmage the national team and help them prepare for either World Cup or Olympic competition. Flagg was the first college player asked to be part of the select team since Doug McDermott and Marcus Smart were asked to join a mini-camp in 2013.

But those situations weren’t anywhere near the same as Flagg being part of this camp. McDermott had played 110 college games for Creighton at that point and was a two-time consensus All-American. Smart was coming off a freshman season when he won Big 12 rookie of the year and player of the year honors at Oklahoma State. They were already proven.

Flagg has zero college points. He still proved plenty in this camp.

“He wants it,” U.S. guard Devin Booker said. “I know this experience, he’s going to take with him and move forward.”

In Monday’s scrimmage — the Olympic team beat the select team 74-73 — Flagg was in the middle of everything down the stretch and looked perfectly comfortable. And when it was over, there were plenty of pictures with everyone; the select team’s final day in camp was Monday, though some may be invited to stick around to continue assisting the Olympic squad.

“To be able to do what he did, not even playing a college game, let alone an NBA game, there’s no fear,” select team forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. of the Miami Heat said. “It’s relentless. And the thing that you can tell about him is that he just has a knack and the will to win. He doesn’t need the ball. He just finds a way to it. And the ball finds its way to him. That’s something that you can’t teach. He’s just got a great feel for the game.”

Flagg is a 6-foot-9 forward from Newport, Maine, but played his last three years of high school basketball at Montverde Academy in Florida. He chose Duke over Connecticut, was USA Basketball’s male athlete of the year in 2022 after leading the Americans to gold at the U17 World Cup, and was the Gatorade National Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American in his final high school season.

“I was shocked, I was surprised, and I was really excited for this opportunity,” Flagg said. “And I’m just really blessed that I was able to come out and capitalize on it and show what I have. I was really grateful to come out and learn. That was the biggest thing for me, just being able to learn and grow, to share a gym with all of these great, great names. Legends. So, I’m just truly blessed.”


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