Austin Reaves: ‘My whole story is going to be different from the others’

·14 min read

Austin Reaves, a 6-foot-5 guard for the Oklahoma Sooners, is one of the best shot creators among all prospects in this draft class.

Reaves averaged 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game this past season, highlighted by his 27-point performance against the then-undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs in the NCAA tournament. He draws contact well to get to the free-throw line often and is also an above-average playmaker for others.

He recently caught up with HoopsHype over dinner in Newark, New Jersey to discuss his journey from a small town in Arkansas to someone now primed for professional basketball. Reaves also explained his game, told us about an interesting nickname and shared his ideal golfing crew.

Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity.

How do you explain your journey to get to where you are today as an NBA prospect?

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Austin Reaves: My whole story is going to be different from the others. We had a farm. My grandpa raised cattle. I was never into any of that because I was always playing some type of sport. But it’s also been rough. I didn’t have any notoriety coming out of high school and I’ve literally worked for everything I’ve had coming from the town that I’m from. If I have kids, I don’t want it to be as hard for them. There are a lot of people that had resources that I wasn’t able to do or I didn’t know about. I was very uneducated about AAU and all the camps. When I was playing, there was never anybody there who could see me play and figure out who I was and help me out. I just really bet on myself. A lot of kids don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to expand on what they are already comfortable with. I was comfortable, too. I just thought, if this is what I want to do, I’m going to have to expand everything. I knew my lifestyle was going to change. I knew the way I talk was going to change. Everything was going to change. I was committed to it and I knew it was something I wanted to do and it’s worked out so far.

Were you able to have pro dreams despite being from such a small town?

https://twitter.com/MavsDraft/status/1391844813322997762 AR: I grew up playing baseball. That was my sport. Everybody, from the time I started, said this was how I was going to make a living. People really thought that I was going to play college baseball. I was a shortstop. My dad made me pick between basketball and baseball during the summer between sixth and seventh grade. He said that I needed to figure out one so I could get my school paid for. I’d played basketball but it was new to me. I went to a team camp and I moved up to play with my brother, who is two years older than I am. We were killing everybody. The feeling that I had when we were winning made me want to play basketball. My dad thought that I was making the wrong decision but he supported me. I told him I was going to play in the NBA and I was maybe ten years old. I saw it. But I didn’t know it could actually become true until I actually got to college.

What were the biggest challenges about getting noticed in that environment?

https://twitter.com/DraftDummies/status/1410696883975069700 AR: The main thing for me is that I was from Newark, Arkansas -- it was a town of 1,200 people. I graduated with 52 people. I was always the shortest kid until my junior year of high school when I grew six inches. I used to be a little kid. I was maybe 5-foot-9 and 115 pounds as a freshman but I was doing my role, which was being a point guard and getting my brother the ball. During high school, I wasn’t getting recruited from anywhere even though I was putting up crazy numbers. I think I was leading all basketball in scoring. I even had 73 points in a game. We went through a four-day tournament and I averaged 49 points in the tournament. Even during those things, I still wasn’t getting recognition from schools. People were telling me I was too skinny. I had three D-I offers at the end of my senior year. I still believed I could become a pro but the reality was hitting me. I knew I was going to go play somewhere for college but I thought after that, I thought that I would go overseas or something like that. It was AAA high school basketball. Nobody makes it to that NBA level coming from a school like mine. If I were at a bigger school or a better school, maybe those resources could have gotten me more opportunities. But with the way everything went, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

What was your transition like from a small high school to playing college basketball?

(AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck)

AR: The main thing was just, from a basketball standpoint, I was playing against really good people every day. There were no days off. Going to practice in high school, it was a breeze. You walk in knowing you’re going to be the best player on the court. Even in games. Then you go to college and you have ten other guys who are just as good if not better than you and it just drives you to do better and put in more work. When I got to college, I learned how to be more vocal and how to speak up in certain situations. Even to this day, I’m working on it. I know how valuable it is as I see the things it can do for a team. If you don’t have it, I see how it hurts a team. Off the court, I remember, vividly, my first two weeks at Wichita State. The lingo that people use now, that I use now, was people saying things like “say less” and “bet” and I had never heard those things in my life. We went out to eat with a teammate and he forgot his wallet and I covered him and he said “good looks” and I’m sitting there, like, what does that even mean? I didn’t say anything. I went to my dorm and he went to his dorm and I just called my friend back home and so I asked what it meant. He had no idea. [Laughs] I started asking what things meant after that otherwise I never would have known. Now, I go back home and I’ll talk the way that I talk now, and all of my friends ask me what the hell I’m talking about.

How would you compare your two college experiences at Wichita State and Oklahoma?

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AR: We had a really good team going in at Wichita State. Landry Shamet was there both years I was there. I was a freshman and I graduated high school at 17 years old so I was still young. I was just a kid playing a grown man’s game. I was smart enough to know that I wasn’t the best player on the team. But I needed to figure out things that I could do to stay on the court. At that point, it was making open shots and taking charges and doing little things. That’s what I did to get the minutes, which progressed to more minutes as a sophomore. But I was really doing the things it took to help us win. During my time at Wichita State, I was strictly a catch-and-shoot guy and I got to Oklahoma and I became more of a playmaker. Going into Oklahoma, there was an opportunity for me to expand my role and do more and do what I was capable of doing. I just jumped on that opportunity early and it worked out well.

What were you able to do to improve your game when you got to Oklahoma?

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

AR: I adapted to the way coach Lon Kruger let his guys operate and make mistakes and learn from them. I believe that you can make mistakes and that is how you better yourself. I learned how to be in that situation and it was a blessing because I wanted to expand my role. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to mess up first and then figure it out. I leaned on coach Kruger and he had the trust in me. I got comfortable with the guys to just know when and where they like the ball passed so we could have that non-verbal communication on the floor. I learned their tendencies whether it’s to cut out the corner when someone has it during a pick and roll on the weak side or the roll-up, it’s just about the unsaid stuff. I’m able to think about the game and then just execute my thoughts. Since then, the main thing for me was just my body. I’m getting laterally quicker. I’m getting stronger. I’m getting more athletic. I’m getting able to move better. If I keep getting better every day and move forward in those aspects, it’ll unlock a different side of me.

I love your ability as a shot creator. What do you think are your biggest strengths as a scorer?

Credit: HoopsHype

AR: There are a lot of people that I watch to pick things up from. Like, CJ McCollum is not as big as everybody but he knows how to get to his spot and get his shot and shoot over bigger players. I watch a lot of basketball and learn from it all and at the end of the day it’s all about the work that you put in and if you put in the work, you’re going to get the results. I didn’t get as many opportunities to shoot off of the catch at Oklahoma because when I did get the ball I was often four or five feet out beyond the arc. Then, I think I have a pretty deceptive first step and I just know my angles. The time that it takes for me to change directions in those types of situations helps me as a scorer in isolation. I know what I would do as a defender if I was guarding myself so I try to be a step ahead of them. If I see any situation where I would slide in front of myself, knowing that’s what they’re going to do, I’ll just go the other direction. I also love getting to the free-throw line and getting there early. My dad always told me they’re free for a reason. If you get there early and you see a couple go through the basket, it opens everything up. Those are easy points and they are points you can get because it’s just about learning how to create contact. You see that James Harden mastered it.

You had a breakout game in the tournament, scoring 27 points against Gonzaga. How do you reflect on that performance?

https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/1374097998649520128 AR: I had an interesting mindset because Gonzaga actually recruited me out of high school. I only played AAU for one year but one of their assistants reached out and over a two-month span, we talked quite a bit. One day, I just didn’t hear from them anymore. That’s just how recruiting goes. But it was a dream school for me. I wanted to prove them wrong. So going out, I knew we were going to have to be perfect to have a chance to win, especially without De’Vion Harmon. I wanted to be aggressive and do whatever it took to be successful. Coach put me in a good situation to do those things and it ended the way it ended. The thing about me, though, is I hate losing. If somebody had told me before the game that I had 5 points but we won, I would have signed up. Winning is everything. It burns that we lost. But at the end of the day, we lost to a really good team. The performance that I had, looking back, it’ll be something that I can remember fondly.

Looking forward, what role do you think you can have in the NBA where you will have the most success?

AR: I can play the one and get others involved. But the one and two are becoming more interchangeable in the NBA. I can get others involved and make open shots and make players for others. You have to stay ready and mentally locked in. Playing basketball is so normal for me. At the end of the day, it just feels like basketball, regardless of the score. I’m somebody who will make the simple play or the right play instead of going for the tough basket. I’m putting in the work. I work out in the situations that I’m going to be in during the game. Some people put themselves in positions that they will never be in during games. So that means if my coach wants me to be a catch-and-shoot guy, I’ll get to the highest efficiency I can be in that role and if it’s something else, I’ll do that all the way to the best way that I can as well.

How would you describe yourself to NBA teams and to prospective fans?

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

AR: I’m someone who gives 110 percent every game. I’m very down to Earth. If I’m walking into an arena and someone asks for an autograph, I’m never going to give them the cold shoulder. I’m going to be accessible. Let’s say I go get drafted and I change myself and I start wearing all this Dior whatever and name brand stuff. I feel like I would look stupid. That’s just not me. As a person, I’m always going to keep to myself. I’m family-oriented. I have a few super close friends. I’m never going to be someone I’m not.

So...I’ve got to ask you about the nickname “HBK” that I’ve heard a little bit about.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

AR: During my redshirt year, one of the graduate assistants came up to me one day and said: “I figured it out.” I asked him what he was talking about. He said it was my nickname. “Hillbilly Kobe. HBK.” [Laughs] One of my other teammates heard him and it just progressed from there. I said, well, whatever you want to call me, man! It was cool, though, because my favorite player was Kobe Bryant. I vividly remember watching the final game of his career. It was late at night and my mom was in bed and I was jumping up and down and just yelling. She runs in the room and asks me if I’m okay. She thought something was wrong. But yeah, I'm cool with the nickname. It’s pretty funny and it’s got some meaning behind it. Like, I’m from the middle of nowhere and I grew up on a farm.

I also hear you’re pretty good at golf. If you could go golfing with anyone, who would it be?

AR: Oh, if I could pick anybody? First, it would be Jordan Speith. He is my favorite athlete of all time. He’s a golfer so I’m going to have him on my team. I’d love to have Stephen Curry there and he is pretty good. Michael Jordan is going to be on my team, too. I’d also really love to have Matthew McConaughey. That’s one person where if I see him walking down the road, I’d ask for a picture. That’s really him. He’s super fascinating. But if that was ever the crew, I did something right. [listicle id=1520950]

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