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

LAS VEGAS — Cooper Flagg is leaving Las Vegas, where Team USA’s now-concluded training camp was the talk of the town.

Flagg, 17, an incoming freshman at Duke and an early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft, won’t be on the team that heads to Paris and potentially wins a fifth Olympic gold medal. But he’s been the best player on the select team and one of the most consistent players on the court during three exhibition games over the past three days against the star-studded national team.

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

“He showed no fear,” added Detroit Pistons center and select team forward Jalen Duren. “He came in and worked hard every day. You’d think he’d be there already, you know what I mean?”

“Coop played like crazy,” added Jaime Jaquez Jr., a select team player who also plays for the Miami Heat.

“He wants it, you can see how bad he wants it,” said U.S. National Team player Devin Booker.

That was just a sample.

A final point tally for Flagg wasn’t immediately available, but U.S. coaches and officials estimated that 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 made a corner 3 and then executed a daring putback over the U.S. defense to put the Select Team ahead, 69-68, with less than two minutes left in the game. 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 — kudos to the Duke freshman, as Holiday is one of the best defenders in the NBA). Anthony Davis punched away Brandin Podziemski’s potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.

One of Flagg’s 3-pointers came against Davis, which Jaquez said was retaliation for a block Davis made on Flagg during Sunday’s exhibition game.

“Yesterday he got blocked, and today he came right back and hit him in the face,” Jaquez said. “Right after that he got the and-1 putback, so those couple plays, and he got a steal. He was unbelievable today.”

Flagg, a 6-foot-9 forward, is the first college player to attend a Team USA training camp since Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott in 2013. He’s not the first Select Team player to disrupt a USA training camp by shining as brightly as the team’s all-star lineup. Last year, Cade Cunningham earned similar reviews.

But Cunningham had already played two seasons in the NBA by then, and his time with the select team was praised in part because he had just recovered from 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 betrays his youth.

“I just think he’s got a competitive fire, and he’s not afraid of anybody and he’s going to come at you,” said Trayce Jackson-Davis, the 24-year-old Golden State Warriors player who just finished his rookie season. “That’s what you need as a player. And when you’re already that way and you’re 17, the sky’s the limit.”

The select team was dismissed after Monday’s practice, as the national team has a walk-through on Tuesday and will play Canada in an exhibition game in Las Vegas on Wednesday night 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 part of the U.S. Under-17 team that won gold at the 2022 World Championships and was both the Gatorade and Naismith Boys’ National Player of the Year this past season while at the high school level, out of Montverde Academy in Florida.

Those are all honorable mentions, but they don’t compare to NBA champions, Olympic gold medalists and all-time leading scorers.

“Once the ball goes up, I just try to win every time,” Flagg said, explaining why he wasn’t fazed by his Las Vegas surroundings despite his age. “I’m just a competitor, and that’s what it comes 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 raved about Flagg’s skills and size, as well as his mental capabilities.

“He has so much confidence that he’s not afraid of moments, and I think that’s really important for young guys, especially someone his age,” said senior coach Jamahl Mosley, who also coaches the Orlando Magic.

Langston Galloway, a former NBA player and longtime U.S. national basketball team player who plays as a practice player for the national team, immediately became a fan of Flagg’s playing.

“I’m not even impressed with the score and stuff like that; I’m more impressed with his composure,” Galloway said. “He’s not out there trying to force it, like, ‘Now it’s my turn. Let me try to get a shot.’ He’s trying to make plays. You can tell he understands the game. Get in the paint, everybody’s breaking down, making the right reads. So that’s the most impressive part of it, that a 17-year-old can understand the game.”

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Boylen, a former head coach in the NBA and also a former coach of the U.S. teams that qualified the country for the 2023 World Cup, said Flagg will be an excellent player on the international stage. The men’s national team will not return to action until this summer, when it will be the 2027 World Cup in Qatar and the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

By the time the next Olympics roll around, Flagg will likely have been in the NBA for three years.

“He’s versatile, he’s in the right position, he’s a smart player and he embraces contact,” Boylen said.

Flagg confirmed he is interested in competing at the World Cup in three years’ time if his game continues to develop.

“That’s something I strive for, just trying to be the best I can be and if I can accomplish that and then make the World Cup team in two years, then that’s another goal on my list,” Flagg said. “I’m just working and trying to get better every day.”

Galloway came away from the Flagg experience with the idea that experts believe Flagg will be the first overall pick in the next NBA Draft.

“I think today was a confirmation (that showed) where he’s going to be next year,” Galloway said. “This year, he’s obviously going to be at Duke. But next year, you’ll see where he’s going to be.”

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

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