Austin Reaves on being Filipino fan favorite at Fiba World Cup: It’s special for me
MANILA, Philippines–From as early as the player introductions, it was pretty obvious that Austin Reaves was the most popular player on the floor for Team USA as far as Filipino fans were concerned.
And every time he checked into the court, touched the ball, or hit a three–there was no mistaking how the roar from the crowd at Mall of Asia Arena got louder.
The Los Angeles Lakers guard, who helped Team USA to a 99-72 victory over New Zealand in their Fiba World Cup Group C opener, admitted hearing the fans’ cheers was something that meant a lot to him as a small-town kid from Newark, Arkansas now repping the powerhouse nation in one of basketball’s grandest stages.
“It’s special for me. I’m from a super small town. Not a lot of people expected me to be here to represent our country. So for them to accept me the way they accept me, that means a lot to me,” Reaves said in the post-game press conference.
Before flying to Manila for the global showcase co-hosted by the Philippines, Reaves said he already had an inkling that his team the Lakers–and him by extension– had a large following in this basketball-crazy nation.
And it showed even before tip-off with Reaves being introduced last and getting the loudest cheers from the crowd–a mix of Filipino fans and followers of both USA Basketball and New Zealand.
“I had kind of seen it coming. I was talking to [Lakers assistant coach] Phil Handy and he said they love the Lakers out here,” Reaves said.
Reaves finished with 12 points, two rebounds and six assists as Team USA recovered from a jittery start to wrap up its first assignment in Manila, where it is one of the crowd draws aside from the home team Gilas Pilipinas.
He knocked down two triples in the first half, where the Americans visibly struggled to get their groove going and found themselves trailing the pesky New Zealand by 10, five minutes into the opening period.
Neutralizing New Zealand by the strength of the sheer talent expected of an all-NBA team, Team USA turned a mere 36-34 lead with 3:24 left in the half into an 18 advantage, 76-58, at the close of the third.
The lead ballooned to as big as 27 late in the game.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the start we wanted. We’re going to watch the film and learn from that,” said Reaves of their poor showing early. “But the intensity and physicality after the first five minutes was much better. Like I said, we’re going learn from that and move forward to Greece.”
Team USA drew 21 points from forward Paolo Banchero, 14 points from Anthony Edwards and another 12 from Jaren Jackson Jr. in the win before its showdown against Greece, which is missing its top star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“It was a really good game for us to experience. New Zealand was great. They came out very physically right away and took it to us,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said. “We needed to feel that because that’s what games are going to be like. I like how we responded.”
USA plays Greece on Monday also at Mall of Asia Arena.