Cooper Flagg Named USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year
At 15 years old, Cooper Flagg was one of the youngest players at the FIBA Men’s U17 World Cup last summer in Malaga, Spain. He was also one of the best.
The USA Men’s U17 National Team went on a dominant run, going 7-0 and winning a gold medal. It was the sixth consecutive U17 world title for the U.S. A 6-7 forward, Flagg proved impossible to ignore throughout the tournament, averaging 9.3 points and 10.0 rebounds. He also led the team with 2.4 steals and 2.9 blocks.
Flagg was nearly 18 months younger than most of his competition, yet he still shined. For this, he has been named USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year, the youngest to earn the honor since the award's inception in 1980.
“I’m thrilled for Cooper Flagg after he led the U17 team to a gold medal and an undefeated record, helping to extend the United States’ U17 World Cup record to 44-0,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We are all excited to continue to watch Cooper develop on and off the court.”
The men’s U17 World Cup was already one huge step for Flagg. His performance in the final against Spain put an exclamation point on what was already a strong tournament. His 10 points and 17 rebounds along with eight steals and four blocks, helped the U.S. claim a 79-67 win in what was a hard-fought game. Flagg’s 17 rebounds were also a single-game record for the men’s U17 team.
Afterward, Flagg was named to the tournament’s All-Star Five along with teammate Koa Peat. Flagg showed immense range in his game during the tournament, recognized by head coach Sharman White.
“When talking about CooperFlagg and his performances and his standout play during the World Cup, words are not enough to describe. Cooper did everything that he could to try to win. His contribution to the team was limitless,” White said. “He did it on both ends of the floor. As I like to say, he affected winning, and he did it at a high level.
“This young man has an incredible future ahead of him and it was a true honor and a pleasure to be able to coach him. I’m proud of him as a young man and the way he carries himself and the way he respects the game. I couldn’t be happier to say words on his behalf as he gets this incredible honor.”
Beginning his prep career in 2021-22 at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, Maine, Flagg became the first freshman to be named the Gatorade Maine Boys Basketball Player of the year. He averaged 21.0 points and 10.0 rebounds along with 4.0 steals and 4.0 blocks, as he led his school to a 21-1 record and a state title.
After finishing his freshman year in Maine, Flagg transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida before his sophomore season. He will now develop in the basketball program that produced NBA players such as Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons.
Flagg, who turns 16 today (12/21/22), has already taken great strides in his USA Basketball career. But this may only be the first step in a long basketball career for the young forward.
The Male Athlete of the Year honor is one of several end-of-season USA Basketball awards that were announced throughout the month.
Sean Shapiro is a sportswriter based in Detroit. He is a freelance contributor for USAB.com.