Nokomis freshman Cooper Flagg goes up for a shot over Hampden Academy’s Landon Gabric during a preseason game on Dec. 2, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

It took just seven seconds of a recent preseason boys basketball game to see what all the excitement is about around Nokomis Regional High School in Newport these days.

Cooper Flagg grabbed a rebound at one end of the court, dribbled the 84 feet to the other end past defenders from Thornton Academy of Saco and without breaking stride unleashed a highlight-reel slam dunk.

And while dunks alone are uncommon in Maine schoolboy basketball, what makes this one all the more noteworthy is that the 6-foot-8 Flagg and his twin brother, 6-7 Ace Flagg, are 14-year-old freshmen at Nokomis who have altered the state’s schoolboy basketball landscape even before playing their first countable game.

The Warriors, who finished 1-17 two years ago before COVID-19 prompted a switch to an abbreviated schedule last winter, have been picked to finish first in Class A North this season in a preseason coaches poll, and that’s just where the youngsters hope to lead their team.

“We want to win a state championship, that’s been our goal for the longest time,” Cooper Flagg said. “Our core group of guys playing this year has always wanted to win a state championship together.”

The twins’ potential influence on Maine’s high school basketball scene was in evidence at Hampden Academy on Thursday when Nokomis attracted a COVID-19-adjusted capacity crowd for another preseason game.

That may be a precursor to this team attracting crowds like those that followed such high school legends from the 1990s as Cindy Blodgett of Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Andy Bedard of Mountain Valley High School in Rumford and T.J. Caouette of Winthrop – all who inspired filled high school gyms at home and on the road before graduating to Division I college basketball careers.

“I think that’s probably going to be the norm,” veteran Hampden coach Russ Bartlett said after his team dropped an 83-54 decision to the Warriors. “I think their mantra of ‘Ignore the noise,’ is the right thing. They just need to go out and lock people down for 32 minutes and they’ll be fine.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise given the Flaggs’ success at the middle-school and travel basketball levels.

Earlier this year, they and Nokomis teammate Dawson Townsend played on a Maine United travel squad coached by Bedard that captured a Zero Gravity National Finals eighth-grade championship.

Cooper Flagg has been ranked among the top 50 players nationally in the Class of 2025 by numerous online publications — rarefied air for a player from Maine — and in late July he received his first Division I scholarship offer from Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

“I think Cooper’s in a tough position because there’s tons of expectations but he is as advertised. He is very good,” Bartlett said.

“The thing I love the best about him is he doesn’t force anything, the game comes naturally to him. He can score on all three levels. He’s super active on the defensive end. He’s very, very special.”

Ace Flagg, Cooper Flagg and Madden White (left to right) talk on the sideline during a preseason game against Hampden Academy on Dec. 2. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Bartlett compares Cooper Flagg’s game to a former standout from Deering High School in Portland who became a four-year starter at the University of Maryland and today is continuing a 15-year professional career in Europe.

“I look at Cooper and I see Nick Caner-Medley, except Cooper’s bigger than him at the same age,” he said. “He’s going to play at a level that’s very special for the state of Maine, and hopefully he’s going to get to spoil us for four years.”

The twin sons of former University of Maine women’s basketball player Kelly (Bowman) Flagg always have looked forward to competing in high school and seeking to become the first Nokomis boys basketball team to win the gold ball symbolic of a state championship.

“I can remember coming to games as a little kid, maybe 6 or 7, and idolizing all the players on the floor,” Ace said. “I’d watch the whole team just hoping to be there someday, and now being here at this point is really exciting.”

Nokomis freshman Cooper Flagg drives the ball down court past Hampden Academy’s Nick Johnson during a preseason game on Dec. 2. At far left is Ace Flagg. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Flagg twins began playing travel basketball soon after that initial exposure to the sport, with Cooper starting as a second-grader and Ace following suit a year later.

The duo soon became teammates, and as their competition eventually expanded well beyond the state’s borders so did the publicity they received from the wider basketball community.

“It started our seventh-grade year,” Ace said. “We started getting way more out-of-state attention, that’s when the exposure started coming in through Zero Gravity and then MADE  Hoops. You get those major names involved and it allows you to showcase yourself on a bigger scale. That’s when you really get your name out there.”

That exposure has given way to a more localized perspective this winter as Cooper and Ace Flagg introduce themselves to Maine’s high school basketball community.

Cooper Flagg provides the Warriors with not only a 6-8 wing with impressive finishing skills around the basket and 3-point shooting range, but a team leader even in his relative youth.

“I’ve never had a 14-year-old freshman be a leader but he has the qualities to be a leader, he really does,” Nokomis coach Earl Anderson said. “The other kids see it — you can’t fool kids — and they listen, they follow him.”

Ace Flagg (center) and Alex Grant block Hampden Academy’s Brandon Butterfield during a preseason game on Dec. 2. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Ace Flagg, an All-Class C North tight end for the Nokomis football team this fall, is more of a low-post presence who complements Cooper’s game.

“Ace has got a good basketball IQ,” Bartlett said. “He catches the ball in situations where he should, and I think he’s also going to become a very, very good defensive player for them as the season moves forward.”

Anderson previously coached Nokomis to the 2001 Class A state championship during a  12-year stint as the school’s girls varsity basketball coach, and he sees similarities between his successful girls teams and this year’s boys team.

“They both had great leadership, they really like each other, they love the game and they want to be pushed and challenged,” he said. “They’re not afraid of hard work and they want you to push and challenge them. They’re ready for success.”

Hunter Flagg, a senior forward and fourth-year varsity player, described the integration of his younger brothers and Townsend with a returning cast that also includes Madden White, Alex Grant, Grady Hartsgrove and Cody Chretien as seamless.

“It’s not like they’re typical freshmen because obviously their skill level is like they’ve been playing for five years,” Hunter said. “We give them respect, they give us respect, we’re pretty much one big family. No one talks down to each other, there’s none of that. It’s really a nice community we have with all of our players.”

The three Flagg brothers are especially looking forward to playing with each other because while they’ve played together in pickup games and rec league competition, the stakes have never been this high.

Nokomis head coach Earl Anderson talks with his team during halftime at a preseason game against Hampden Academy on Dec. 2. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“We’ve always talked about it,” Cooper said. “We’ve always wanted to get out on the court with Hunt, so I think it’s really great that we’ll get the experience to go out there and play with him this year.”

That begins officially on Tuesday, Dec. 14, when the Warriors host Class AA Bangor in their season opener. The gym will be limited to two-thirds capacity and all fans will have to be masked, but Cooper Flagg looks forward to making his high school debut in front of however large the hometown crowd might be.

“This has always been my dream, to come out and play in front of everyone from our community,” he said. “I can’t wait.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...