In this March 5, 2022, file photo, Nokomis High School's Cooper Flagg passes the ball during the Maine Class A boys basketball championship game at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Cooper Flagg of Nokomis Regional High School in Newport has become the first freshman to be named the Gatorade Maine Boys Basketball Player of the Year for his work in leading the Warriors to their first Class A state championship in program history.

State winners from around the country were announced Wednesday morning through the award’s website. No Maine freshman or sophomore had won the Gatorade award for Maine schoolboy basketball since its inception during the 1985-1986 season.

Only three non-seniors have been named Maine’s Gatorade player of the year, juniors T..J. Caouette of Winthrop in 1996, Garet Beal of Jonesport-Beals in 2012 and Terion Moss of Portland in 2017. All three went on to become the state’s only two-time winners of the Gatorade award, which this year distinguishes Flagg as Maine’s best high school boys basketball player but differs from the state’s Mr. Basketball honor reserved for seniors.

Cindy Blodgett of Lawrence High School in Fairfield is the only three-time Maine Gatorade Player of the Year in either girls or boys basketball. The former University of Maine star won the state’s girls basketball award in 1992, 1993 and 1994, but during her freshman year the honor went to Seana Dionne of Stearns High School in Millinocket.

Flagg, a 6-foot-7, 195-pound forward, led Nokomis to a 21-1 record this season, capped off by a 43-27 victory over Falmouth in the Class A state championship game that marked the Warriors’ 20th consecutive victory.

Flagg had game-high totals of 22 points and 16 rebounds in the state final.

Flagg displayed his versatility throughout the winter by averaging 20.5 points, 10 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.7 steals and 3.7 blocked shots while playing an average of 26 minutes per game. He shot 62 percent from the field and 67 percent from the free-throw line.

“Cooper Flagg is a once-in-a-generation talent here in Maine,” said Jason Pellerin, head coach at Lawrence High School in Fairfield. “He’s the best overall player — offensively and defensively — that I’ve ever coached against. His basketball IQ and maturity for a 15-year-old are truly something special.”

The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states for high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. The award also recognizes high standards of academic achievement and character on and off the court.

Flagg recently raised funds to defray the cost of cancer treatments for a family friend and has volunteered locally on behalf of youth basketball programs. He also has maintained a 3.67 grade-point average. The selection process is administered by the Gatorade Player of the Year Selection Committee, which relies on coaches, scouts, media and others to help evaluate and determine the state winners.

Flagg, the first Gatorade Maine Boys Basketball Player of the Year in Nokomis history, joins Cash McClure of Maranacook Community School in Readfield (2021), Bryce Lausier of Hampden Academy (2020), Matthew Fleming of Bangor (2019) and Moss (2017 and 2018) as the state’s most recent winners of the award.

Through Gatorade’s “Play it Forward” platform, Flagg and other state winners now have the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national organization of their choosing to help young athletes realize the benefits of playing sports.

State winners also are eligible to submit a short video explaining why the organization they choose is deserving of one of 12 $10,000 spotlight grants, which will be announced throughout the year. To date, Gatorade Player of the Year winners’ grants have totaled more than $3.5 million across more than 1,300 organizations.

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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...