THE MIGHTY United States team descended upon the FIBA World Cup in the Philippines minus the star power equal to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James when the two legendary Americans visited the country multiple times in the past

But it didn’t stop basketball-crazed Filipino fans from showering rising Los Angeles Lakers star Austin Reaves with adulation.

From drawing the loudest cheers during the pregame player introduction versus New Zealand before a sellout MOA Arena crowd to being chased at the Shangri-La Makati where a big group of faithful camped just to see him, Mr. Reaves was undoubtedly the most popular among the Steve Kerr-mentored all-NBA squad that was tipped to rule the biggest event the country hosted in recent years.

The 6-5 spitfire from a tiny town in Newark, Arkansas wasn’t shocked though at the love he received and relished it.

“I kind of seen it coming. I was talking to Phil Handy (Lakers assistant coach) and he was telling me they love the Lakers out here,” said Mr. Reaves during the well-attended post-game presser also graced by Mr. Kerr.

For Mr. Reaves, playing for the country and flag was a dream come true.

“It was just special for me. I was one of those kids watching the World Cup, the Olympics, so I cherish these moments,” said Mr. Reaves. “I’m from a super small town and not a lot of people expected me to be here representing our country.”

“So for them to accept me the way they accept me means a lot to me,” he added.

Mr. Reaves reciprocated the adoration with a performance to remember, helping the US smash a highly physical New Zealand, 99-72, late Saturday night that set in motion its bid to reclaim the crown it lost following a disappointing quarterfinal exit in the last edition four years ago in China. 

He had 12 points, six rebounds, three steals and the usual impactful intangibles that endeared him to the Filipinos. — Joey Villar