Fans settle into their seats inside the Cross Insurance Arena in Portand on Friday night to see Montverde Academy basketball standouts Cooper and Ace Flagg play Gonzaga College High School, of Washington, D.C. Mike Mandell/Morning Sentinel

PORTLAND — You don’t have to ask these people when they bought their tickets — it was as soon as they heard about the Maine Event.

All throughout the state, the word spread quickly when it was announced that former Nokomis High standout Cooper Flagg and the Montverde Academy boys basketball team was coming to Maine for two games. If you didn’t grab your tickets right away, you were out of luck as the games this weekend sold out in less than 24 hours.

The two-day event began Friday at Cross Insurance Arena with Montverde beating Gonzaga College High School of Washington, D.C., 92-51 behind 23 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and eight blocks from Flagg. The Eagles are scheduled to play CATS Academy of Boston at the Portland Expo at 6 p.m. Saturday.

“When we first heard about it, we knew right away we had to get tickets,” said T.J. Tyler of Waterboro, who attended the game with his children, Maci and Trent, and wife, Heather. “It’s pretty special to see (Cooper) come back to his home state. We wanted to be here for it.”

That was a sentiment echoed by the full-house crowd that packed Cross Arena on this night. Hours before Flagg — a Duke University commit — would take the floor, that crowd was out in force, filling the arena hallways to the brim in anticipation of the action.

With the jerseys and gear on display, the scenes in those hallways seemed like those from a college or a professional game. Some wore Duke gear; some wore their own high school garb; many wore NBA jerseys with Steph Curry and Jayson Tatum the most prominent choices.


Brayden Lay, though, had especially fitting apparel. The seventh-grader from Newport, Flagg’s hometown, wore a blue shirt featuring Flagg’s appearance on the cover of SLAM magazine from October. A Duke fan even before Flagg’s commitment, seeing him live was extra special.

Fans settle into their seats inside the Cross Insurance Arena in Portand on Friday night to see Montverde Academy basketball standouts Cooper and Ace Flagg play Gonzaga College High School, of Washington, D.C. Mike Mandell/Morning Sentinel

“He’s an all-around great player; he passes the ball, and he works hard,” said Jessica Lay, Brayden’s mother. “We knew we had to be here; we actually know Ralph (Cooper’s father), and he sent us the pre-sale link, so we got them right away.”

Frank and Liam Godley traveled all the way to Portland from Winterport, nearly two hours away. Thirteen-year-old Liam proudly sported a Duke hat, a choice much to the chagrin of Frank, a North Carolina fan.

The 100-mile drive was nothing too great for the Godleys — “We’d go all the way to Duke if we could get in,” Frank said.

It was a worthwhile trip for the two, who had been eagerly awaiting the game since the games were announced in September.

“(I like) his athleticism, his hustle back on defense and his offense,” Liam Godley said. “He’s so fun to watch. It’s like watching the NBA players.”


For the Foster family from Fairfield, this was not the first time seeing Flagg in action. Ten-year-old Carson had seen him play four times before, and Broden Foster, a junior at Lawrence, compared playing against Flagg to “an elephant running behind you.”

Fans head to their seats inside Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Friday night to watch Cooper Flagg and his Montverde Academy basketball team play against Gonzaga College High School of Washington, D.C. Mike Mandell/Morning Sentinel

“It’s good to see central Maine kids going places,” Broden Foster said. “You don’t always see that.”

Trent Tyler was eager to see poster dunks, something for which Flagg certainly became known during his one-year run at Nokomis. His last game in a Nokomis uniform, the 2022 Class A state title game against Falmouth, came on the same floor Tyler watched him Friday.

The Tylers were among the first in the building, right near the front of the line through security at the southwest entrance to the arena. T.J. Tyler made note that he could very well be watching a future NBA All-Star from Maine in action. 

“It’s special for this state,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing what he’s been able to do. He could be that one unicorn to come out of Maine.”

They got on their feet for Flagg before the game even began as the star player treated the packed house to a spectacle of dunks during warmups. He then got a bigger roar during player introductions — and an even bigger one still as he dunked for the first points of the game just 8 seconds after tip-off.

The impact of those oohs and ahs was not lost on Flagg, who admitted there was a little bit of pressure given the magnitude of the event and the hopes of the 6,702 people in attendance. Yet once the ball tipped, he said, that pressure was washed away as he awed fans once again in an impressive showing.

“It’s an incredible feeling knowing that you have all those people behind you and all of those people just supporting you,” Flagg said. “I think it exceeded all expectations. It was just an incredible environment and a lot of fun.”

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