Thursday, July 25, 2024

Cooper Flagg should’ve replaced Kawhi Leonard on Team USA after the Duke freshman shines vs. NBA stars

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard withdrew from Team USA and will not play in the 2024 Olympic Games, USA Basketball announced on Wednesday. With Leonard out of the picture less than three weeks before Team USA faces Serbia in Paris, the federation moved fast to name Boston star Derrick White as his replacement.

While White was one of the stars of the 2024 NBA Playoffs who played a significant role in the Celtics winning the NBA Finals, there was a more outside-the-box selection on the table to replace Leonard on Team USA: Duke incoming freshman Cooper Flagg, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft. The former No. 1 recruit in the 2024 recruiting cycle by 247Sports has been training with Team USA during the past week in Las Vegas on the USA Select Team and put on an impressive performance vs. the NBA stars who will represent the nation in Paris.

The 17-year-old Flagg has not only shown that he belongs in a group of some of the greatest basketball players on the planet in one room, but proved to be one of the best players on the USA Select Team. Multiple clips of Flagg went viral this week, which included him knocking down a 3-pointer over Lakers star Anthony Davis, hitting a stepback jumper over Celtics star Jrue Holiday and racing down the middle of the lane to finish an “and-1” putback. 

An amateur on Team USA in the Olympics wouldn’t have been unprecedented. After his senior season at Duke, Christian Laettner was a member of the 1992 Dream Team, the first team to feature NBA players. Davis was picked to join the 2012 Olympic roster after an impressive one-and-done season at Kentucky. 

If Flagg were picked, there would’ve been no pressure on him to play significant minutes. There would be a strong chance he barely saw the floor, but if Flagg were added to the roster, it would give basketball fans a glimpse into one of the most highly anticipated incoming college players in years.

Flagg would’ve certainly been an outlier selection per se. The national team has never featured a player fresh out of high school, but Flagg should’ve been the exception because we haven’t seen a player of his caliber heading to the college ranks in quite some time. 

As celebrated as he was coming out of high school, Zion Williamson wasn’t even the top-ranked recruit from his own recruiting class – and that might be the last player who generated this amount of hype before stepping on the floor to play a single minute of college basketball. 

There is no denying that Flagg will be a member of the national team one day — likely in 2028 or 2032 at the latest. Had Flagg been the pick to replace Leonard, it could’ve given basketball fans around the world a small taste of why he could be the best player in the sport during the 2024-25 college basketball season. 

Team USA made the safe pick in tabbing White as the 12th member of the team, but there was an opportunity to bridge the gap between the past generation and the current generation. Flagg is going to be a member of Team USA one day. The only question is, how much longer will he have to wait?

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