Cooper Flagg (32) of Nokomis Regional High School dunks the ball during the Class A North championship game against Brewer on Feb. 26 at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

During their tournament games, the Nokomis boys basketball team tried not to focus on the large crowds filling the Augusta Civic Center and Cross Insurance Arena to watch the Warriors play.

It was hard, though, to ignore them before the game started.

“You’d look and go ‘Wow,'” Nokomis coach Earl Anderson said. “I don’t remember ever seeing the Augusta Civic Center this packed. … And I’ve been to a number of state championship games in that venue in Portland, and I don’t remember it ever being that packed.”

It summed up the prominent themes of the 2021-22 season in boys basketball: The return of tournament play, the return of fans, and the arrival of freshman forward Cooper Flagg, who generated headlines and attention no player has in a long time.

Flagg’s freshman year at Nokomis lived up to every bit of hype it had preceding it. He was named Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A Player of the Year after averaging 20.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 3.9 blocks and 3.9 steals per game, all of which led or were second in the conference. He then elevated his game in the bright lights of the playoff stage, averaging 21 points and 13.3 rebounds as Nokomis prevailed for its first-ever state championship.

Teammates and opponents alike raved about his play, as swarms of people made it a point to check in and see him in action.


“He was unbelievable. I was glad to see a lot of fans wanting to go watch him play,” said Maranacook coach Travis Magnusson, who was in attendance for all three Nokomis games at the Civic Center. “He’s very different than I think a lot of players that you see in Maine, especially that young. There’s not much he can’t do. He can do everything. And at that size, the ability to play point guard, the way he passes, I hope people know how good he is.”

Maranacook’s Chris Reid, right, fouls Mount View’a Tyler Russell during a Class B boys basketball game Feb. 1 in Readfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Big as they were, Flagg and the Warriors weren’t the season’s only storyline. The return of the state tournament after it wasn’t held last year brought a meaning and an importance back to the season that was lacking last season.

“That was awesome. High school basketball in the whole state of Maine is such a big part of Maine culture, but especially in (northern) and central Maine,” Anderson said. “It was really a big return to normalcy, to have the Maine high school basketball tournament back. Because that it is what February is all about. It’s why you look forward to February.”

The tournament was back, and so were the fans, after teams spent the previous season playing in front of cardboard cutouts and empty bleachers due to coronavirus precautions.

“To play a basketball game, call it a playoff game or not, without fans is completely different,” said Skowhegan coach Tom Nadeau, whose team’s wild regular season victory over Brewer was amplified by a rowdy home crowd. “Not only getting back to the Civic Center (for the tournament), but having fans in the stands and getting a bunch of kids all riled up and screaming and yelling, the atmosphere of that, I think everyone was excited to have it back.”

Forest Hills’ Braidan Welch (10) and Mason Desjardins cut the net after defeating Valley during the Class D South boys basketball championship game Feb. 26 at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

And within the context of those universal narratives came the individual stories of players and teams. Forest Hills, led by guard Mason Desjardins, dominated Class D South again, going undefeated in the region and beating Valley for the regional title before a loss to Southern Aroostook ended the Tigers’ 65-game winning streak over full Heal points seasons.


The longest runs belonged to Nokomis and Forest Hills, who reached state finals, while Monmouth, sparked by junior Manny Calder, rose from a fifth seed to reach the C South final before falling to eventual state champion Dirigo and Valley made the D South final. Cony and Skowhegan reached the A North semifinals, Mt. Abram made its first C South semifinal since 1998, and Maranacook made the semifinals in Class B South.

To get there, the Black Bears, the best team in the state last season, played the underdog card by first beating No. 8 Lake Region on the road in the preliminaries, then stunning No. 1 Spruce Mountain in the quarterfinals.

Erskine’s Liam Perfetto, left, plays defense on Cony’s Luke Briggs during a Jan. 18 boys basketball game in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“To beat No. 1, undefeated Spruce Mountain was obviously really good for our kids,” Magnusson said. “We played two really good tournament games, we had to beat Leavitt the last game to kind of even get that spot. … It was a really good tournament for us. We had three seniors that started, but we also had a lot of young guys in our rotation. For us, we think it was a really good year.”

Desjardins, Cony’s Luke Briggs and Carrabec’s Luke Carey were also among those achieving individual milestones, as the three players reached the 1,000-point marker. Desjardins reached the number while scoring 16 points in a 76-26 win over Vinalhaven Feb. 7, while Briggs accomplished the feat while scoring 19 points in an 89-52 win over Lawrence two days later. That same day, Carey reached 1,000 points in the Cobras’ 84-57 loss to Mt. Abram.

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