The annual Best of Preps event has become a big deal.

Last year, more than 1,000 enjoyed a banquet inside FireLake Arena and watched as more than 250 athletes were honored and almost $30,000 in scholarships and prizes were handed out - including a brand new Jeep Renegade to the Student of the Year.

This year’s event should be even bigger with another new car to give away and even more scholarships and awards to hand out.

It was such a big event, we wanted to bring in a big star to make the event even better. You can’t find many stars who are bigger than Big Country.

Big Country is the nickname given to Bryant Reeves when he was becoming a star on the Oklahoma State basketball team. Reeves said as nicknames go, Big Country wasn’t bad. “It could have been a lot worse,” Reeves said with a laugh.

The “big” part of Big Country is obvious for a man who stands seven feet tall. The “country” made sense too.

Reeves had never flown on an airplane before coming to OSU from Gans, Okla. After his basketball career ended, Reeves returned to Gans where he lives on a ranch.

Big Country was a nickname that fit so well, it became a brand for Reeves. The Hideaway Pizza chain that started in Stillwater and is spreading across the state, even has a pizza named after Big Country because of his popularity at his alma mater.

Reeves led the Cowboys to a Final Four appearance in 1995 and then became the first player ever drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies NBA franchise. He has even been added to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2017.

During his time at OSU, he became famous for several things. Every Cowboy fan remembers him smashing a backboard during practice for the Final Four. Reeves has a favorite memory, though.

“The shot from half-court to send the Missouri game to overtime has to be my favorite memory,” he said. That shot tied the game and OSU went on the beat the Tigers 77-73 in overtime.

Vancouver was excited to draft Reeves and he was excited to play there, but the move to Canada was not easy for a guy from the banks of the Arkansas River in Gans, Okla.

Reeves was well known in the city for his friendliness at community events. That was a part of the move the Big Country enjoyed.

“In Vancouver, the people were hockey people so you had to do a lot to really introduce the game and build interest,” he said. He said he was playing basketball, doing what he loved. That made the relocation easier. He said his wife April, working at home and getting to know Vancouver made it easier for him. “When we got back from a road trip, it was like I had my own tour guide. She took care of everything so I could just play.”

Because he was their top pick, expectations were incredibly high for Reeves. Even though he played six seasons in the NBA and scored more than 40 points in a game once and averaged 12.5 points per game and seven rebounds, some were disappointed in his career.

He signed a $61 million contract and kept a big chunk of that despite his career ending prematurely. At one point he was the second highest paid post player in the NBA behind only Shaquille O’Neal.

The only thing that disappointed Reeves was that knee and back injuries cut his career short.

“I wish I could have played longer,” Reeves said. “I loved it but injuries forced me to quit.”

Reeves move back home to a ranch near Gans. He has four children. Two of them attend OSU. His son, Trey, was just put on scholarship this season at OSU by the Cowboys’ basketball team.

In addition to three older children, Bryant and April have a two-year-old.

“I got to go trick or treating again this year,” he said with his easy laugh.

Reeves and Shawnee boys basketball coach Ron Arthur - who worked with the Oklahoma State squad before he graduated in 1993 - are still friends to this day. Because of that relationship, Reeves isn’t taking an appearance fee to be part of the Best of Preps event May 6, 2019.

His generosity allows us to use that money on more prizes and scholarships for our area athletes.

If you have 45 minutes of free time, there is a great documentary on Youtube called “Finding Big Country” and you can even see Coach Arthur in it.

Big Country will be at the VIP reception before the event and he will help hand out awards and pose for photos with athletes who win them and other fans.

You need a big star for a big event and they don’t get much bigger than Big Country. He is a great guy and he will make our 2019 Best of Preps event even better.