Portland resident Jamison Sawyer tends to stay in the southern part of the state to watch the Maine high school basketball tournament.

This year, however, is different.

Cooper Flagg and the Nokomis boys basketball team are coming to the Augusta Civic Center, and Sawyer, a former player at Mt. Blue High in Farmington, knew he had to catch the show.

“Nokomis (of Newport) is obviously a hike,” he said. “I thought about going to see him when he came and played at Mt. Blue, but it just didn’t work out. Fortunately they’re playing in Augusta, and we’re absolutely going to make the trip up, as I’m sure a lot of people are. … When you’re someone that enjoys keeping up with Maine basketball and watching it, it’s absolutely worth it to go up and see.”

The tournament that comes to the Civic Center generates buzz and excitement every year in this basketball-mad part of the state, but there’s a different element to it this year. The Class A North tournament will feature the Nokomis boys basketball team (17-1), which has rolled over opponents this season, and features a generational talent in Flagg. The Warriors freshman leads the region in points (20.4), steals (3.9) and blocks (3.9) per game while ranking second in rebounds (9.4) and assists (6.0). He is a ranked prospect nationally, having already generated Division I interest at 14 years old.

Nokomis (17-1) opens tournament play Saturday at the ACC at 9 p.m.


Flagg’s arrival was the story at the beginning of the season, and the anticipation of his playing in the tournament in front of thousands of fans only grew as he proved himself worthy of the hype. The Nokomis faithful will gather to watch him as they have for every game, but, as was the case with stars like T.J. Caouette (Winthrop), Andy Bedard (Mountain Valley) and Ralph Mims (Brunswick) before him, they’ll be joined by plenty in the area who need to see for themselves what all the fuss is about.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of what I call ‘high school Harrys,’ the ones who don’t have a dog in the fight that just love high school basketball,” said Ryan Palmer, who will get his first in-person glimpse of Flagg and the Warriors while calling the games for the National Federation of State High School Associations. “I anticipate a big crowd, and I think as long as Nokomis stays in the tournament, each game they play, it’s going to get bigger and bigger.”

Nokomis freshman Cooper Flagg dunks the ball during a Jan. 28 game in Gardiner. Flagg’s arrival in Gardiner that night drew a larger-than-normal crowd. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I’d expect monster crowds,” added Sawyer, who said he hasn’t been to the Civic Center in five years. “There’s going to be the Nokomis fans, there’s going to be whoever they’re playing, there are going to be other teams’ fans who are around, and everyone is going to stick around. And then you’re going to get a whole facet of people like myself who don’t have a (team) but are going to travel to see him and his team. I would expect bigger crowds than they’ve had there in a while.”

The attention is nothing new for Nokomis and its gifted 6-foot-7  freshman. Flagg declined to speak for this story but addressed the hype following him at the start of the season.

“I like to use it as motivation most of the time, it helps me push myself harder,” he said on Dec. 7. “It’s just a full thing of motivation coming at you every day, people telling you you’re good, people telling you you’re awful, people saying you’re not good enough. It’s pure motivation.”

Nokomis coach Earl Anderson said the spotlight has gotten easier for the team after the start to the season.


“That was more preseason than anything,” he said. “Once the season started, we were really no different than any other team in our league.”

There was still interest, however, particularly as word of Flagg’s play spread and the Warriors established themselves as one of the best teams in the state. When Nokomis visited on Dec. 20, Skowhegan did ticket vouchers to cap attendance at 500 in its 1,000-seat gym. When the Warriors traveled to Gardiner, the Tigers’ athletic department, anticipating a large turnout, announced on Facebook that it was not going to allow more fans if it reached a 450-person capacity.

One of the fans in attendance for the Gardiner game was C.J. Elliott, who in addition to watching his son Dillon play was looking forward to seeing Flagg in action.

“It’s exciting to see that kind of basketball in the state of Maine,” Elliott said. “Some of the younger kids and siblings to the older kids who are on varsity haven’t been to too many games so far this year, and they’ve come specifically, I think, to see the Flaggs. It was a little scary to try to get in here, I got here early to make sure I got a seat.”

The players who were not used to this attention before the Flagg twins, Cooper and Ace, arrived have seen what it’s like to be the talk of the state.

Nokomis freshman Cooper Flagg dunks the ball during a Jan. 28 game in Gardiner. Flagg’s arrival in Gardiner that night drew a larger-than-normal crowd. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We know everyone’s got our game circled on the schedule,” Nokomis sophomore guard Alex Grant said. “Even against teams where we didn’t think there’d be a big crowd, there’s always been a big crowd.”


“Last year, you’d walk through and everyone would be like ‘Oh, it’s Nokomis.’ Now you walk through and everyone has eyes on you, they’re all watching you,” junior guard Madden White added. “This year it’s just been a whole other level. Especially with Cooper and Ace, the spotlight’s all on us right now.”

That’s not about to change. Officials at the Augusta Civic Center said they’re anticipating big crowds for Nokomis’ games, as fans who are there to see their teams play earlier in the night will stick around to see Cooper Flagg play.

“It’s not too often that a 6-7 freshman with D-I commitment (potential) walks into the Augusta Civic Center. I expect the crowd to be better than usual,” reservation coordinator Forrest Bumford said. “We haven’t put a number on it. … But a kid that could go play for (coach) Juwan Howard (at Michigan), people are going to want to go out to see.”

Nokomis freshman Cooper Flagg, left, (32) tries to get around Bangor’s Max Clark (13) during a Dec. 14 game at Nokomis High School in Newport. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“There are quite a few teams that draw a good crowd,” ACC director Margaret Noel added. “But with something as unique as this, I imagine it’s going to affect attendance in a positive way … from the folks that have wanted to see him play but haven’t had the opportunity.”

As one of those fans, Sawyer said he’s looking forward to seeing the elements of Flagg’s game that have popped up on social media: the dunks, the blocks, and the passes and plays that have helped his teammates thrive along with him.

“He’s so well-rounded,” he said. “He’s super athletic, he can dribble, can shoot, can do all the things. He’s extremely unselfish, which is something I’ve liked about him. He’s a fantastic passer.”

“He’s at the top of every statistical category you can think of,” Palmer said. “People say he’s so unselfish as well. You just look at his stats and you kind of wonder and scratch your head, like ‘How?’ That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to, just seeing how he keeps the whole team involved and how he takes over if he has to.”

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