On a Los Angeles Lakers roster that has a combined 59 All-Star appearances, undrafted rookie Austin Reaves has become the talk of the town.
Wednesday night, Reaves hit a game-winning three in overtime to give the Lakers a 107-104 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. While Laker loyalists have grown to love Reaves over the course of LA’s season, many basketball fans across the world know little to nothing about the 23-year-old.
Here are some fast facts about the underrated guard, including how his nickname “Hillbilly Kobe” came to be.
Austin Reaves was a star hooper in Arkansas
Reaves’ athletic journey was originally supposed to take place on the diamond instead of the hardwood. The Newark, Arkansas native originally focused on baseball, with basketball serving as nothing more than a hobby with friends. However, the 6-foot-5 guard told Lakers.com he burnt out on baseball in seventh grade, leading to a full-time pursuit of hoops.
With b-ball serving as his sole focus, Reaves became a two-time All-State selection at Cedar Ridge High School in Newark. He earned state tournament MVP honors as a senior after leading the Timberwolves to their third title in four years. Additionally, the prep sensation once scored 73 points in a triple-overtime game during his final season.
Despite a decorated high school career, Reaves received no more than three offers to play college basketball. Ironically, the top recruit coming out of Arkansas was Malik Monk, a future lottery pick who Reaves would become teammates with on the Lakers. Eventually, the future pro accepted a scholarship offer from Wichita State.
Reaves had an excellent college career with two schools but failed to get drafted
The 6-5 Reaves spent his entire freshman season coming off of the bench for the 31-5 Shockers. Though he did manage to appear in 33 games, averaging 4.1 points in 11.8 minutes. He saw more playing time in his sophomore campaign, averaging 21.5 minutes while starting 11 games. After the season, Reaves transferred to Oklahoma, sitting out the 2018-19 season per NCAA rules.
When the Arkansas native finally made his Sooners debut in 2019, he looked like a changed player. Reaves started all 31 games for Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma squad, averaging the second-most points on the team with 14.7. His greatest performance came in the final game of the season, scoring 41 points in a 78-76 win over TCU on the road.
By his senior season, Reaves was running the show in Norman. In 25 games, he led the team with 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. In the NCAA Tournament, his third in four collegiate seasons, Reaves scored 23 points to lead the eight-seed Sooners to a 72-68 win over Missouri. Oklahoma would fall 87-71 in the following round to the top-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs, but not before Reaves dropped 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Reaves secured first-team All-Big 12 honors, joining future NBA lottery picks Cade Cunningham and Davion Mitchell. However, as a 23-year-old, his pro prospects were far slimmer than someone like a 19-year-old Cunningham. As a result, Reaves went undrafted.
The Los Angeles Lakers liked what they saw in Reaves
With two parents who each played basketball at Arkansas State and an older brother at Central Missouri, Reaves was destined to shoot hoops. So his dreams wouldn’t die after he failed to hear his name called during the draft.
On August 3, the Lakers signed Reaves to a two-way contract. This meant the Oklahoma star would have a shot to prove himself during LA’s Summer League games.
In his first two games with the Purple and Gold, Reaves averaged 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.0 blocks in 26.5 minutes. He’d go on to play five more Summer League contests in Las Vegas, averaging 6.6 points in 22.2 minutes.
The Summer League showing was enough to convince the Lakers Reaves was fit to wear the uniform. Days before the preseason began, LA signed the rookie to a standard NBA contract. The deal paid Reaves $925K for this season, with a club option next season for $1.5 million.
Hillbilly Kobe has become a key player for the Lakers
Initially expected to fill out the back end of LA’s roster, preseason injuries catapulted the 6-5 guard into the rotation immediately. Reaves made his debut in the Lakers’ second game of the season, scoring eight points in 12 minutes. Save for a hamstring strain that cost him a handful of games in mid-November, the rookie has been a regular member of the rotation since.
Reaves’ top-two scoring outputs have come within LA’s last three games. In a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Reaves scored a career-high 13 points. Five nights later, he scored 15 points thanks to 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. The last 3-pointer, the game-winner to stun the Mavericks, is easily Hillbilly Kobe’s greatest professional moment.
By the way, where did that nickname come from? Interestingly enough, it goes back to Reaves’ days in Oklahoma, well before he repped the same purple and gold as the Black Mamba (h/t Los Angeles Times).
“My first year at Oklahoma we had a [graduate assistant]. He came up to me one day and was like, ‘I figured it out.’ And I was like, ‘Uh, what are you even talking about?’ … He was like, ‘HBK.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And he was like, ‘Hillbilly Kobe.’ … I was like, ‘Aw, whatever,’ and then one of the teammates heard it and it just stuck.
So for three years that’s what they said around Oklahoma and I guess people caught wind of it elsewhere.”Austin Reaves
The way Reaves is looking for a Lakers team still vying for a title, you can expect to see a lot more of HBK going forward.