ESPN stars worried Cooper Flagg will face same ‘pressure’ as Caitlin Clark

ESPN stars worried Cooper Flagg will face same ‘pressure’ as Caitlin Clark

As a media storm has brewed surrounding Caitlin Clark’s lofty rookie season expectations, two prominent ESPN personalities are concerned the same may be in the cards for an up-and-coming phenom.

While speaking on their signature “Pardon the Interruption” show on Thursday, hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon discussed 17-year-old basketball star and incoming Duke five-star prospect Cooper Flagg.

“Because he’s going to Duke, and because he is a white player, assumptions are going to be made. Statements are going to be thrown out there,” Kornheiser said. “That is the nature of what we’re dealing with here, as it is with Caitlin Clark. I hope that he is a great player, but the pressure on him will be enormous. Will there be a great white American basketball player, sort of like Larry Bird?

“And, if there is, will he be allowed to just be a basketball player, or will all these cultural notions overwhelm him?”

Kornheiser and Wilbon debated Cooper Flagg’s upcoming first year at
Duke and potential NBA career. @AwfulAnnouncing/X

Wilbon seemed to agree, implying that the relative popularity of men’s versus women’s basketball may play a role in any sort of race discourse that lies ahead.

“I hope this kid has the stomach for this, Tone, with parents who can help, and teammates who can help. But, Tony, this is a real thing,” Wilbon expressed. “People don’t really want to get into it with Caitlin Clark. This is new, and newer to women’s sports.

“But there won’t be that same reluctance and reticence when it comes to Cooper Flagg and Duke.”

Flagg, the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2024, raised eyes around the basketball world based on his latest impressive feats with Team USA’s Select Team.

Flagg was impressive in his first glimpse of basketball beyond the high
school level. Getty Images

The phenom was dynamic against household NBA names in an Olympic team scrimmage in Las Vegas, including Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Clark has shined as a pro, becoming an All-Star in her first year and recording the first rookie triple-double in WNBA history — not to mention the first-ever by a Fever player.

However, the Iowa product has dealt with widely elevated standards from fans and pundits, including for her to win Rookie of the Year over Angel Reese.

Clark has succeeded despite unrelenting pressure to keep up her unstoppable college metrics. Grace Smith/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

After a particularly weak incoming NBA rookie class, franchises have already begun to circle Flagg as a generational type of star atop 2025 NBA Draft boards.

The Newport, Maine native helped comprise a Blue Devils crop that ranks No. 1 in the nation and includes fellow five-stars Khaman Maluach, Isaiah Evans and Kon Knueppel.

Head coach Jon Scheyer’s Duke program reached the Elite Eight of the 2024 NCAA Tournament before bowing out at the hands of fellow ACC school N.C. State.

After losing premier college players Jared McCain and Kyle Filipowski, Duke seeks its first title since 2015.