FIBA World Cup

From small-town boy to crowd darling: USA’s Austin Reaves feels ‘special’ in Manila

Jasmine W. Payo

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From small-town boy to crowd darling: USA’s Austin Reaves feels ‘special’ in Manila

SOLID. USA guard Austin Reaves impresses in his FIBA World Cup debut.

FIBA

‘Every kid wants to be at this stage,’ says Austin Reaves as the Lakers guard draws the loudest cheers during the USA’s opening game in the FIBA World Cup

MANILA, Philippines – He has always been the unlikely player. 

Austin Reaves, the undrafted guard who wound up impressing with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA playoffs, continues to pull off some surprises, this time in the FIBA World Cup in Manila.

“I love it, that’s what you play for,” said Reaves, also an unexpected pick in the young 12-man USA team.

“Every kid wants to be at this stage. I was one of those kids watching the World Cup, the Olympics. So yes, everyday I wake up, I cherish those moments, and I don’t take it for granted.”

What didn’t surprise him, though, was the loud cheers he got in virtually every play he figured.

“I kinda see it coming,” said Reaves,  admitting he got tipped off that Filipinos are huge Lakers fans. 

“It’s just special for me. I’m from a super small town, obviously not a lot of people expected me to be here representing our country,” added Reaves, who grew up in an Arkansas farm, in a town with a population of just over a thousand.

“For them to accept me, the way they accept me, means a lot to me.”

While relishing the Filipino love, Reaves delivered a solid World Cup debut as he dropped 12 points and 6 assists in over 22 minutes of action in USA’s 99-72 thumping of New Zealand in Group C on Saturday night, August 26.

The 6-foot-5 guard finished just behind Orlando Magic star and last year’s top rookie pick Paolo Banchero (21 points) and Minnesota Timberwolves stalwart Anthony Edwards, also another former No. 1 draft pick (14 points, 7 rebounds).

But Reaves knows there’s a lot of work ahead for the favored but young USA crew. 

As USA coach Steve Kerr noted, there are a lot of adjustments from NBA to FIBA play. But he isn’t exactly worried fielding a squad of mostly national team first-timers.

“I love watching these guys grow,” said Kerr. “It’s not like they’re untested. This guy (Reaves) kicked our butts in the playoffs just a few months ago,” said Kerr. “You go down the list, we’ve got young guys who can play, who have proven it in the NBA and the NBA playoffs.”

Reaves and the Lakers booted out Kerr’s Golden State Warriors in this year’s NBA Western Conference semifinals.

Proving to be a rising star, the 25-year-old Reaves went on to average 16.9 points – the Lakers’ No. 3 scorer – in the conference finals against eventual league champion, the Denver Nuggets. 

“They’re fearless. I love watching them play,” Kerr said of his young roster. “It’s been an absolute joy to coach them, just because of their eagerness to play together and to be selfless… so it’s really a lot of fun to coach them and I have great confidence in them.”

Reaves also looks forward to learning more as USA braces for Greece on Monday, August 28 at 8:40 pm at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“Everyday I get to play with this much talent, it makes it easy for me, just because everybody is selfless,” said Reaves. “There are no egos on the team. It has been real fun for me.” – Rappler.com

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Jasmine W. Payo

Jasmine joined Rappler as its sports editor in 2018 after over a decade of working as a sportswriter for a national broadsheet.