Nokomis’ Cooper Flagg (32) dunks with authority against Brewer during the Class A North boys basketball final on Feb 25, 2022 at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

NEWPORT — The dawn of a the high school basketball season last year also ushered in an extra layer of excitement with the much-anticipated arrival of Cooper Flagg.

The emergence of Flagg took Maine by storm as the Nokomis freshman dazzled fans from near and far with thunderous dunks and standout all-around play. The 6-foot-7 Flagg, along with twin brother Ace, didn’t disappoint, powering the Warriors to a dominant season that ended with the program’s first Class A crown. The Warriors played many of their postseason games before enthusiastic crowds that numbered in the thousands.

As a new high school basketball season gets set to tip off Dec. 9, the sport’s landscape is once again altered as Cooper and twin brother Ace are now in Florida playing for prep power Montverde Academy. Their departures has the Maine basketball world wondering what a Flagg-less season will look like.

“Coming off the COVID year (2020-21) where we didn’t really have a season and didn’t have a tournament, having something like that really brought people out,” said Nokomis head coach Earl Anderson. “It’s going to be different, but we’re a short-memory society, and we’ll move on.”

Indeed, the sports world has a propensity to move on quickly — especially in a high school hoops scene where players come and go in the blink of an eye. Still, there’s a question of what things will look like following the must-see spectacle that was Flagg Mania a year ago.

Nokomis boys basketball coach Earl Anderson looks on during practice Thursday in Newport. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel



“He’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime kids; everyone wanted to get out and see him, and deservedly so,” said Falmouth boys coach Dave Halligan, whose team fell to Nokomis 43-27 in the state game. “As a basketball fan, you enjoyed it, but unfortunately, we had to play him.”

Flagg took Maine by storm right away, bringing fans to their feet with his dunks, emphatic blocks, wicked handles and smooth jump shots. Although a few schools had to limit capacities as a result of lingering pandemic restrictions, most gyms filled to their rafters, with fans traveling miles and miles to see the 6-foot-7 freshman in action.

Even when the games moved to the bigger venues for the state tournaments, accounting for capacity crowds was still a relevant task. At the Augusta Civic Center, site of the Class A North games, tournament director Doran Stout said they were close to turning people away at a few Nokomis games. The ACC holds 5,099 people. 

“We were keeping track of how many people were in there, and we were close,” Stout said. “I think we could only have gotten 200 more people in there, to be honest with you. It was probably as close as you could get to a virtual sellout. You had people coming from all over the state to watch that Nokomis team play.”

Although this year’s tournament won’t feature Cooper Flagg, Stout said there’s still plenty to be excited about this season, coaches said. The easing of COVID-19 restrictions for fans and players will lead to a more “normal atmosphere,” and the traditional central Maine powers, he said, are sure to bring as many fans as ever.

“There are so many people right here in the central Maine area, the Kennebec Valley, that are so excited about basketball,” Stout said. “Schools like Winthrop, Hall-Dale, Gardiner and Cony always have strong teams, and you can throw a rock from those places and hit the Civic Center. That’s going to lead to a real good draw.”


The Nokomis and Cony boys basketball teams play in front of a large crowd during a Class A North semifinal basketball game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

After suffering a loss to powerful Brewer early last season, Nokomis dominated the rest of the way en route to winning its first-ever Gold Ball. Although the Warriors won’t be walkovers this season, the departures of Cooper and Ace Flagg change the calculus in Class A.

That’s not to say the Nokomis isn’t set for another good season in 2022-23, but expectations don’t match those from last season. Brewer and Skowhegan see golden opportunities to make championship runs of their own in the North.

“You have a lot of teams out there who think they have an opportunity this year,” said Brewer head coach Ben Goodwin. “For us, we can really go if we go out here and play our game. We went a long way last year, and this year, we know we have a good opportunity of winning a state championship.”

In Class A South, there are other teams that also see potential windows for Gold Ball runs without the Flagg boys standing in the way. Falmouth, which must replace a lot of the offensive production from a season ago, brings back a lot of size from a team that was unbeaten until falling to the Warriors in the state final.

“I think you’re going to see a Class A that’s a lot more wide-open this year,” said Halligan, the Falmouth coach. “You’ve got some good teams in the South and some good teams in the North, and it’s going to be very competitive. Whoever is playing the best toward the end of the season, that team is obviously going to have an advantage.”

Nokomis boys basketball players work through drills during a Nov. 21 practice in Newport. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Although no current Maine high school basketball player can lay claim to being one of the country’s top prospects the way Cooper Flagg could, there’s no shortage of talent. The Gardiner girls have a Division I-bound (St. Joseph’s College) star in Lizzy Gruber; the Brewer boys return dominant players Brock Flagg and Brady Saunders; Oxford Hills features elite boys and girls players in Teigan Pelletier and Sierra Carson, respectively. 

Maine high school basketball existed long before Cooper Flagg came into the fold — and even though he won’t be around the state’s gyms to energize fans, the excitement that’s surrounded the game for decades will be.

 “A lot of people will say it won’t be as exciting, but I disagree,” said Skowhegan boys basketball coach Tom Nadeau, whose team is expected to contend in A North. “It’s going to be a competitive year. There are so many good players, good teams and good coaches. We’re excited to get back to it.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story