When it comes northeast Arkansas native Austin Reaves’ burgeoning fame and acclaim, “big deal” is a relative term.
On one hand, Reaves recently wrapped a season where down the stretch he often looked like the third-best Laker behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That run helped him land his own signature shoes and shiny, brand-new 4 year, $56,250,432 deal. That’s the kind of chunk of change that would fetch quite a return with the cost of living in a hometown like Newark, Ark.
Zoom out some, though, and perhaps the 25-year-old isn’t yet quite the big deal he could become in the next few years. This offseason, teams have been throwing around the kind of contract money that makes $56 million look a touch quaint by comparison.
Former role players such as Jerami Grant (5 years, $160 million), Fred VanVleet (3 years, $128.5 million) and Cameron Johnson (4 years, $108 million) are securing the livelihoods of their great-grandchildren, while the Lakers are keeping critical pieces of their future like Reaves and Rui Hachimura around for considerably less. Given how well Reaves improved in his second NBA season, a similar jump in year 3 would make this look like the best contract in the league, as All Lakers’ Matt Levine put it.
Putting the ol’ monocle on to look specifically at NBA Arkansans’ salaries, we see Reaves still isn’t at the top of the pack. Fayetteville native Mike Conley Jr., who for a home minute was the highest paid player in the league, is No. 1 on a current three-year deal that pays him an average annual salary of $22.68 million. But No. 2 ain’t too bad:
NBA Arkansan Salaries
Mike Conley Jr.
Annual average salary on current contract: $22.68 million
Annual average salary on current contract: $14.06 million
Annual average salary on current contract: $13.39 million
Annual average salary on current contract: $12.14 million
Annual average salary on current contract: $9.7 million
Annual average salary on current rookie contract: $4.26 million
Nick Smith Jr.
Annual average salary on current rookie contract: $2.64 million
Annual average salary on current rookie contract: $2.05 million
Annual average salary on current rookie contract: $2.00 million
Whether you use sports betting apps in Arkansas or not, it’s a pretty safe wager than an improving Reaves would reach All-Star level and take over the top spot in a few years from Conley. That means a non-Razorback remains the top-earning native NBA Arkansan for an annoyingly long time. It’s well known why Conley, who moved from Fayetteville to Indiana in elementary school, didn’t end up as a Razorback but what about Reaves?
Reaves stayed in Arkansas through high school, starring for Cedar Ridge High School, and was interested in playing for his state’s flagship university. The issue, as he explained on a recent interview with the Buzz 103.7 FM, was the Arkansas basketball program was too loaded at the time to make room for him.
Austin Reaves and Arkansas Basketball
Reaves averaged 32.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game as a senior playing in the 3A level of prep Arkansas basketball but as a skinny, gangly 6’5″ shooting guard didn’t show enough to get scholarship offers beyond Arkansas State, South Dakota State and Wichita State, a program then led by Greg Marshall that was in the midst of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances including a Final Four and Sweet 16.
Mike Anderson, then the Arkansas basketball coach, and his staff were intrigued by Austin Reaves’ potential, but the Razorbacks were also loaded at Reaves’ position with Dusty Hannahs already on board and Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford (then two of the nation’s best JUCO players) arriving the next season.
Still, Reaves told The Buzz, Arkansas didn’t offer him a walk-on opportunity until after his commitment to the Shockers on January 20, 2016. “I think they called when I [had] committed to go to Wichita State, they called and offered me a preferred walk-on spot,” Reaves recalled. “Respectfully, I had to decline.”
Preferred walk-ons don’t receive athletic aid, but they enter college with a roster spot secured, receive a uniform and have a stronger chance of immediately competing for playing time than a regular walk-on.
Reaves went on to explain that the Wichita State basketball program was then “probably top 15 in the country. I think we were No. 3 my second year there for a long time. We were really good.”
Taylor Swift Ain’t for Walk-Ons
Reaves’ game has improved considerably since his days of failing to secure a Power 5 scholarship offer, to say the least. Seven and a half years of steady honing and skills sharpening have made “Hillbilly Kobe” a very popular professional, beloved by fans and teammates alike. According to a recent report, he will handle the ball significantly more for the Lakers in 2023-24 as LeBron James looks to to spend less energy as the primary ball-handler (at least in the regular season).
A recent social media rumor also had him handling one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
According to early June Tweet, Reaves was seen at a bar in Arkansas with none other than Taylor Swift. Never mind that Reaves, apparently, doesn’t even drink and already had a girlfriend.
Reaves addressed that rumor in his interview with Justin Acri: “You can’t really put too much thought into the Internet [outside of Best of Arkansas Sports] because stuff like this goes on. It’s nonstop.”
At least Austin Reaves’ inner circle had some fun with it. He said one of his friends had folks keep asking him whether the Taylor Swift rumor was true. It got to the point where the friend gave in to the constant inquiries: “I finally just looked at them and said ‘Yeah, it’s true.'”
To which Reaves replied “‘Thanks, this is how it gets started.”
German National Team Woos Austin Reaves
Reaves was recently selected alongside Bobby Portis as members of the U.S. national team that will play in the FIBA World Cup later this summer. If the U.S. hadn’t come calling, however, many wondered if Reaves would have suited up for the black, red and gold instead.
Since last spring, the German national team coach and Dennis Schroeder, one of Reaves’ former Lakers teammates, had been trying to get him to become the one naturalized citizen allowed on Germany’s national basketball team. For good reason, too. Reaves reportedly has a German grandmother and has obtained a German passport.
Plus, his older brother Spencer plays professional basketball in Germany and has a German passport too. Reaves jumping to the German side wouldn’t have been unprecedented for an American who had lived only in the U.S. either, given Chris Kaman became a naturalized German to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki a decade ago.
Reaves told The Buzz told that for while he was interested in playing for Germany, but as the 2022-23 season progressed he decided he would just use the summer to recover. “I actually had no intentions of playing this summer. Because Dennis is German obviously, we had talked about the World Cup and stuff many times.”
Reaves said he had decided “I wanted to take the summer off with it being free agency and making that the main thing. But when the U.S. called and offered a spot to go play for the country, I couldn’t pass it up.”
That change of mind would explain why when Germany’s head coach Max Herbert tried to contact Reaves a couple times earlier this year, he got only crickets in return.
Austin Reaves and LeBron James
Reaves also talked about his “come to Jesus” moment in the NBA that first summer before his rookie season.
At LeBron James’ mini camp, he showed up early and tried to mentally stay cool as he physicallly warmed up, reminding himself it was just a game he’d played a million times before.
“We’re running through just actions and swing, swing, catch, shoot, whatever. LeBron drove baseline and threw…a missile at me and I’m in the corner and I’m supposed to catch and shoot. It was slow motion in my brain. It was like ‘Just catch the ball, don’t miss the pass.'”
Reaves did it, and felt good about himself just for not showing bobbling the ball. Then he told himself ‘Don’t hit the side of the backboard or don’t air ball it. If I hit the rim and I miss, I’m cool with it. I shoot it and it feels completely horrible. I think I’m made nothing but net. That was the biggest sigh of relief in my life.”
Hear the entire interview with Austin Reaves here: