Nokomis freshman Cooper Flagg takes a jump shot against Falmouth during the Class A state final on March 5 in Portland. Flagg, who is transferring to Montverde Academy in Florida along with his twin brother, Ace, has been ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 college prospect in the Class of 2025. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Accolades keep coming for Cooper Flagg. Days after the Nokomis Regional High freshman was named the Varsity Maine boys’ basketball Player of the Year, ESPN ranked Flagg the third-best college basketball prospect nationwide in the Class of 2025.

The 15-year old Flagg is charging ahead into an undoubtedly bright basketball future. Every decision he and his twin brother, Ace, have made when it comes to their burgeoning basketball careers has been made by the Flagg family with much thought. After leading Nokomis to the first boys’ basketball title in school history, Cooper and Ace will continue their basketball careers at Florida’s Montverde Academy, a school that regularly produces college and NBA players. Seven former Montverde players were selected in the 2021 NBA draft, including No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. The Flaggs should sprint toward this opportunity.

The rest of us are the ones who need to slow down. Cooper Flagg well may become the best basketball player ever from Maine. But to give him that label now is at best premature, and at worst willfully ignorant of history.

Cooper Flagg is the player standing at the confluence of talent and time – an extremely talented player in an era in which nothing goes unnoticed. This season, the 6-foot-7 Flagg averaged 20.5 points, 10 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.7 steals, and 3.7 blocks per game. He made 62 percent of his shot. Every dunk made the rounds on social media, and that helped create the hyperbole.

A recent highlight video on YouTube referred to him as the “LeBron of Maine.” That’s absolutely, positively, 100 percent ludicrous. It’s bad form to compare any high school athlete to a professional. It’s recklessly bad form to compare a high school athlete, even one as unquestionably talented as Flagg, to one of the best players in basketball history.

That’s what social media does. It declares everything new the best and the biggest. And it forgets. Combine that with the fact that Maine produces fewer NCAA Division I basketball players than most other states, so when a player of Flagg’s caliber comes along, memory gets shorter and cloudy.

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Just in the last generation, 20 years or so, we’ve seen players from Maine enjoy not only successful college careers, but professional careers, too. Deering’s Nik Caner-Medley and Edward Little’s Troy Barnies have made very good livings playing professional basketball overseas after playing collegiately at Maryland and Maine, respectively. Messalonskee’s Nick Mayo, a self-admitted basketball late bloomer, set scoring records at Eastern Kentucky and is now enjoying success as a pro player in Japan.

Before he had a solid college career at Florida State and a pro career in Europe, Ralph Mims scored 41 points, including 35 in a row, for Brunswick in a 51-42 win over Bangor in the 2004 Eastern Class A championship game. With every ounce of defensive energy focused on stopping Mims, the Rams still couldn’t do it. Mims scored 80 percent of his team’s points and nearly outscored Bangor himself, and he didn’t score a point in the first quarter.

Going back a little farther to the 1990s, there was TJ Caouette at Winthrop High, who had 63 scholarship offers before choosing to play at Villanova, and Andy Bedard, who went from Mountain Valley High to basketball greenhouse Maine Central Institute (the Montverde Academy of its time) before playing collegiately at Boston College and Maine.

The gold standard for Maine high school hoops is still Cindy Blodgett, who did things at Lawrence that no girls’ or boys’ basketball player in Maine had done before or since. She just didn’t do it on Instagram.

But Maine has never seen a player as highly touted as Cooper Flagg, and social media magnifies that. Nobody garnered the national attention he has attracted in such a short time. He’s potential personified. If he keeps working hard, and there’s no reason to think otherwise, he’ll live up to it.

Cooper Flagg may end up the best basketball player to come from Maine. In one season of high school ball, he’s well on his way. Before we crown him, though, let’s at least let him get his driver’s license.

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