The enchanting realm of basketball possesses a unique magic—a realm where young talent from a quaint 1,000-resident town can ascend to global stardom on courts that stretch halfway across the world.
Austin Reaves finds himself embracing the entire experience of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.
It’s not merely about his presence on the court, triggering roars from the 11,000-strong crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena whenever he makes a move. Reaves stands as a beacon of leadership within this new generation of United States players, and he has already etched his name alongside his LA Lakers teammate in the annals of World Cup history.
Opening the competition with 12 points against New Zealand, he followed it up with an impressive performance against Greece—15 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds in a mere 17 minutes of play. This earned him the prestigious TCL Player of the Game accolade and cemented his position as the second USA player since 1994 to achieve a remarkable 15/5/5 stat line.
No wonder the fervent Filipino fans have embraced him with fervor.
“Yeah, I sort of anticipated it,” Reaves mused about the fans’ enthusiastic reception.
“I had a conversation with (LA Lakers assistant coach) Phil Handy, and he told me about the Lakers’ popularity out here, so I sort of saw it coming. It’s an extraordinary feeling for me. Coming from a very small town, not many would have predicted my presence here, representing our nation. Their warm reception means the world to me.”
His journey has been nothing short of remarkable since going undrafted in 2021 and choosing a two-way contract with the Lakers. In under two months, he transitioned it into a standard NBA contract, and this summer, he clinched a contract extension.
With growing contracts come expanding roles. Both the Lakers and the national team expect him to continuously push boundaries. Coach Steve Kerr harbors no concerns over Reaves’ lack of international experience.
“This guy gave us a tough time in the NBA Playoffs just a few months ago. He might be young, but we have players who can deliver, players who have proven themselves in the NBA and the NBA Playoffs. They exude fearlessness. Watching them play brings me immense joy,” Kerr expressed his unwavering belief in Reaves’ abilities.
The 25-year-old isn’t one to shy away from pressure-packed moments.
“I relish it! This is why you play, every young player dreams of being on this stage. I was one of those youngsters watching the World Cup and the Olympics. Every day I wake up and savor these moments, I don’t take them lightly. Playing alongside such exceptional talent is what makes it special. There’s no ego in this team, everyone is selfless, and it has been a truly enjoyable experience for me.”
While the starting lineup grappled with initial challenges in the opening two games, the second unit, led by Reaves and Paolo Banchero, has shone brightly.
“Our second unit thrives on fast-paced play. It all begins with our defense. We need to bring a high level of intensity on that end, and once that’s established, the game flows smoothly as we capitalize on transition opportunities.”
As the United States prepares for their upcoming group game against Jordan, the knowledge of their second-round berth looms large. The road ahead promises more formidable challenges – a 3-0 Lithuania and a 2-1 Montenegro, both European teams, stand as formidable adversaries that present greater tests than the First Round for Team USA.
For Austin Reaves, challenges are embraced. He’s ready to embrace some Lithuanian and Montenegrin trash talk while continuing his meteoric rise on the global stage.