WASHINGTON POST: "Meet Cooper Flagg, the Next ‘White Duke Villain’"
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From the Washington Post news section:

Meet Cooper Flagg, the next ‘White Duke villain’ and a potential No. 1 pick

Flagg is the top prospect in the 2025 NBA draft class and has overshadowed this year’s relatively weak crop, which will be in the spotlight during Sunday’s draft lottery

By Ben Golliver
May 11, 2024 at 6:02 a.m. EDT

Cooper Flagg will play at Duke next season, then is expected to be the top prospect in the 2025 NBA draft.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Cooper Flagg, America’s most coveted teenage basketball player, faced the biggest decision of his decade-long ascent from central Maine to the top of NBA draft boards.

The 17-year-old prodigy proved to be exceptionally ambitious in rising from rural Newport, which is closer to Canada going northwest or northeast, than it is to Boston, which is 200 miles south. After winning a state championship as a freshman, Flagg transferred to Montverde Academy, a basketball powerhouse near Orlando. Even before he led Montverde to a 33-0 record and a national championship this past season, the polished 6-foot-9 forward reclassified so he could graduate in three years and fast track his NBA journey. Now, he needed to pick a college.

But Duke was the school Flagg’s mother, Kelly, had followed so closely as a high school basketball player that she wore No. 32 as a tribute to Christian Laettner. Blue Devils Coach Jon Scheyer built a strong bond with Flagg on the recruiting trail, and the school’s recent track record of No. 1 picks, such as Zion Williamson and Paolo Banchero, was a big draw. What’s more, Jayson Tatum’s season in Durham was a formative viewing experience for Flagg, a third-generation Boston Celtics fan.

There was one catch: Duke is Duke, for better and worse.

“We definitely had that conversation with Cooper and explained the gravity of the situation,” Kelly Flagg said. “If you choose this school, you’re about to be the greatest, hated White Duke villain.”

Thanks to his highflying offense, hard-nosed defense and competitive drive, Flagg is the top prospect in the 2025 NBA draft class and has overshadowed this year’s relatively weak crop, which will be in the spotlight when the annual draft lottery is held Sunday afternoon to determine which team will get the top pick next month. If Flagg is selected first next year as expected, he will become the first White American No. 1 pick since Indiana’s Kent Benson in 1977.

“That’s a surreal feeling, knowing that’s history in a way,” Flagg said. “I definitely take pride in that, but I take even more pride in coming from Maine. [Going first] is something every kid dreams of. I’m definitely working toward that.”

Duke, he concluded, would best prepare him for the challenges of NBA life. Playing on that stage was worth the stereotypes and the heckling.

“Bring it,” Kelly Flagg remembered her son saying at the family meeting. “He’s always been fueled by negativity from the opposition. Every gym he went to his freshman year, he heard the ‘overrated’ chants. Then he would do something spectacular, and the chant would end abruptly. That’s just his personality. If you’re a basketball player, the color of your skin shouldn’t make a difference. If he can play, he can play.”

Make no mistake: Flagg can play. …

At a time when international players have won the past six NBA MVP awards, Flagg has emerged as an all-world talent who blends modern versatility with old-school fundamentals. In many ways, he defies NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s concerns that the American developmental system overemphasizes playing games at the expense of practicing and produces NBA rookies who aren’t team-oriented players or effective defenders. …

Ralph and Kelly Flagg started dating when Kelly was in high school, and she likes to joke she picked her partner because his 6-9 height was essential to raising a basketball family. Kelly perfected Kevin McHale’s patented up-and-under move as a high school standout before playing on the wing at the University of Maine in the late-1990s. Ralph was a traditional post player for Eastern Maine Community College.

… As his time at Duke approaches, Flagg appears to have more in common with recent one-and-done stars such as Tatum, Williamson and Banchero than he does with Laettner, JJ Redick and other Blue Devils villains from a bygone era.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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