Kobe Bryant was the kid with the rolled up tube socks dreaming about hitting game-winning shots in the Great Western Forum, but Drake Flom was the young boy shooting baskets on the Nerf hoop that hung from his childhood bedroom while pretending he was a varsity player on the Ellsworth boys basketball team.
"I just remember being in my room, having a Nerf hoop on my door, and going through the varsity warm-ups and stuff. I'd play the pep band music in my head, I was kind of humming it, I still remember doing all of that," Flom said. "I look back and I was always dreaming about being on the varsity team."
Ten plus years later and wearing a purple Panthers jersey is no longer a far away aspiration for Flom; it's a reality, and one that he's excelled at.
Now a senior, Flom has racked up more noteworthy accomplishments than just sinking crazy Nerf basketball shots from every corner of his bedroom.
Flom recorded his 1,000th career point on Jan. 30, then shortly thereafter became the Ellsworth boys basketball program's all-time leading scorer, and has now helped carry his varsity team to a 2018 WIAA sectional semifinals game.
"Now seeing myself, it's just like, wow this came quick," Flom said. "Here I am now being the boys' all-time leading scorer. That's just like—" he paused. "It's crazy for me."
At times, Flom feels as though he should still be the youngster in the stands cheering on his favorite Ellsworth varsity player, his first cousin Elliott Jensen, who Flom said has been an integral influence on not only the player, but the young man that he is today.
Jensen, a 2007 graduate of Ellsworth High School, is now an assistant varsity coach for Flom's Panthers team, but their relationship goes back much farther than when Flom joined the varsity team as a freshman.
The two cousins are 10 years apart in age, but their bond struck up once Flom was able to lift a basketball or a football.
"I remember when Drake was young, me and another cousin of ours, he was probably four, five or six, and we'd always push the limits as far as how hard to throw the ball," Jensen said. "Drake would get mad. I remember multiple times where he'd get so mad at us, and say, 'I never want to play again,' but he always came back, I guess."
Growing up with Jensen and cousin Cody Holden who played for Durand, Flom, the youngest of the cousins, learned how to play basketball against guys twice his size, which benefited him in the long run.
"He was always playing against older kids, and I think that kind of let him know where he needed to be," Jensen said. "I think that progressed him a lot faster, too."
Soon, Jensen and Flom weren't just playing pick-up basketball at a relative's house. Jensen, who always knew he loved kids and sports, began coaching Flom's fifth-grade traveling youth team with Flom's dad Chris, which allowed him to have an even greater impact on the player Flom would become.
"Whenever we had a chance to get into the gym, we'd just put shots up and that helped a lot," Flom said. "It wouldn't be all drills or stuff like that. We were still having fun at the same time. We'd throw drills in here and there, but mostly, we were just there to get better while having good quality time that we got to spend with each other."
Jensen admits that he didn't have much influence on Flom's hot hand — that came from Chris — rather, he shared his expertise on being a tough-minded competitor with his young cousin.
"My dad was a big influence on me. He may not know the x's and o's of sports, but the biggest thing that I've tried to get through to Drake and all of our teammates, to be honest with you, is just the competitive drive, and my dad was for sure the one to get that into me," Jensen said. "Just the hating of losing and always wanting to get better. I can definitely say that came from my dad, and that's probably the main thing I try to get through to these guys. I just hope that the competitiveness and just the will to win and push your teammates and be a good teammate, I'd like to say that that was the thing that we worked on the most."
Anyone who has seen Flom play on the football field, on a basketball court, or between second and third base can attest that Jensen's wisdom has stuck with Flom even past his youth basketball days. The senior co-captain of the basketball team leads his team by example by staying level-headed no matter what the scoreboard shows, sometimes to a fault in Flom's eyes.
"Sometimes I don't really like that about myself. I'll show emotion when I need to, but there are a lot of times where I'm just kind of straight-faced," Flom said. "If I make a shot I'm not going to flip out, or if a bad call gets called on me I'm not gonna go off on the ref, but there's a lot going on in my head, I can tell you that. There are things that I want to say, but I think I've gotten to the point where I'm basically just relaxed inside and able to let the game come to me."
"Something we try and tell our guys is to never let their emotions get too out of control. We don't want to be coaching a bunch of zombies out there; if something really good happens, you can show emotion and be excited, but you never want to let your emotions get too high or too low, we say," Jensen said. "I think that really helps just because no matter if you sink an awesome three-point shot or you get stuffed or you mess up on defense, there's always something going on instantly. That's why I love basketball. In football, there's a play then you get to recover for 40 seconds, but in basketball, if you screw up, you don't have time to think about that. You just have to move onto whatever the heck else is next, and at the same time, when you get an awesome shot or something like that, there's no time to showboat or wave to your mom in the stands. The idea is there's always something that's next, and we always use the word transition too. You've got to transition in your brain no matter what happens onto the next play."
That being said, Flom is already focused on bigger goals than scoring his 1,000th point, leading Ellsworth football in all-time completed passes, being the boys' all-time leading scorer, or being named to the Middle Border Conference first team. Netx up for the Panthers: beating the Prescott Cardinals in their upcoming sectionals game. But no matter how the game turns out, Flom feels blessed for how his high school career has turned out and said it wouldn't be nearly as successful had it not been for Jensen.
"If he wasn't around, I don't know what the heck I would be, to be honest. It's kind of scary to think about who I would have been," Flom said. "There was a lot of influence put on me on how to be the right character and how to act as a person and how to act on the court and in school. The way he lives his life is just a good example of who to look up to."
"I appreciate that, and it's been easy for him, I think, because I was 10 when he was born, so when I was going through high school, he was four, five, six and ever since he's been able to really get the grasp of sports and I've been able to teach him and it's been really fun," Jensen said. "I've just been pretty blessed with how he's turned out and just all the people who've been able to help us."
Head coach Tim Dahl, who's played a large role in Jensen's coaching career and Flom's development as a player, has enjoyed witnessing the brother-like relationship between his assistant and player up close.
"Drake has a tremendous amount of respect for Elliott. It has been really fun to watch as Drake has eclipsed some milestones this season and to see the pride on Elliott's face at each step of the way," Dahl said. "Drake has been an absolute dream to coach the past three years and the one constant of my staff has been Elliott and it is hard to put into words how much I appreciate everything that Elliott brings to the table as a coach. Just about every day when I am leaving the gym it seems that Elliott and Drake are still on the court doing some shooting drills or just hanging out and enjoying each other's company. We preach 'family' every day to our team in practice and in games and those two really epitomize exactly what that means."
Soon, Dahl won't be able to watch Jensen and Flom interact daily, and the two cousins will be limited to just communicating by phone once Flom is off to college. Their nightly shooting sessions might change, but the relationship between Jensen and Flom will remain as strong as ever.
"It's a little bittersweet to see some of the things coming to an end," Jensen said. "I mean, obviously everything has to end at some point, but I would say more than anything, it's just happiness and just the feeling of being proud to see that all the hard work is starting to pay off both on the court and off the court."
Flom hasn't narrowed down where he'll be attending college, but said he can't imagine himself hanging up his athletic career after high school. He plans to make his final decision in the near future, but right now, his top priority is leading his team to a sectional finals game while being the same type of role model for some kid with a Nerf hoop as Jensen has been for him.