Cardozo boys, girls hoop teams get boost from sibling standouts

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Marissa Flagg has little trouble shaking her defenders on the basketball court, but the freshman point guard at Cardozo still can’t avoid a lifelong nickname.

“All the time in school people see me and say, ‘Little Nick, Little Nick,’ ” she said. “And I say my name is Marissa and not Little Nick.”

In a very short time, Flagg has done plenty on the court to make her own name. The 5-foot-3 dynamo is Cardozo’s starting point guard and is averaging 14.5 points, 6.8 assists — 10th in the city — and 3.1 rebounds per game.

“She’s got tremendous ability, she’s got great confidence on the court,” Cardozo girls’ coach Larry Carradine said. “She doesn’t play like a freshman, she’s like a varsity athlete. She has a bright future.”

A lot of the credit for her basketball success — and the reason for the nickname — is her older brother Nick Flagg, a junior guard on the Cardozo boys’ basketball team.

“I used to come home crying, saying ‘he pushed me,’ or something like that,” Marissa Flagg said of her one-on-one clashes with her brother. “We used to play all the time, but as we got older we don’t play as much.”

The referee when the two would get to their Cambria Heights home would usually be their mother, Sonja Flagg.

“It kind of runs in the family. I was a cheerleader when I was growing up so I was kind of into the basketball scene,” said Sonja Flagg, a Queens Vocational graduate. “A lot of times they used to play with their father in the backyard, and my husband would come back and say, ‘Oh, I beat them all,’ and I’d hear her crying and I’d hear Nick crying.”

“She plays like a brother to me. I’m impressed with how she’s handling herself in controlling the team, and when she has to step up and score, she does,” said Billy Medley, a family friend and assistant coach on the Cardozo boys’ basketball team. “I think going against her brother and him treating her like a boy is one reason why she has so much poise and can lead the team at a young age.”

According to Nick Flagg, his sister initially followed in her mother’s footsteps.

“At first she didn’t play basketball, she used to come and cheer at my games,” he said. “And one day she just decided she wanted to play. From there on I just taught her and we just played from there.”

Marissa Flagg had a lot of concerns as she started her first year of high school basketball, such as whether she would be accepted by her new teammates and what would happen if she got hurt against bigger and stronger competitors. But Flagg, who plays AAU basketball with the Cecil King-coached New York Gazelles, says her new teammates quickly reassured her.

“It took me by surprise that since I was new and I was starting that I didn’t think people would accept me,” she said. “But everyone accepted me for me.”

Nick Flagg, a 5-foot-9 explosive two guard, is also enjoying a spectacular season. With star guard Cameron Tyler out of the lineup with a broken wrist, Flagg filled in quite nicely for the Judges’ leading scorer. He averaged 16.2 points, four rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, and Cardozo lost just one game (81-73 at Jamaica) in Tyler’s absence.

But even with Tyler back, Flagg is still providing a spark. Against Robeson, last year’s city championship runner-up, he ignited the Judges’ fourth-quarter rally by scoring 14 of his 19 points to garner game MVP honors at the Gauchos High School Challenge Games last month.

“They relied more on me to score more points until he came back,” Nick Flagg said. “It’s all a team effort and with Cam back it’s just more help and it makes us better.”

“He plays hard, has a nice outside shot. He’s a tough kid and you can go to war with him,” said Cardozo boys’ basketball coach Ron Naclerio. “He just has to keep working, and because of his size he has to make his strengths stronger and his weaknesses less weak.”

While both have proven themselves on the court, which Flagg is a better player?

“I don’t know, they’re both good,” said Travis Flagg, their 7-year-old brother.

Even though Flagg has proven she is one of the best freshman guards in the city, she still isn’t called by her first name when she walks down the Cardozo hallways.

“It’s still ‘Little Nick’ but now we’re moving on to just Flagg,” she said. “No more ‘Little Nick.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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