BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Angel Reese is adjusting to the idea that celebrities she’s long wanted to meet are also eager to have an audience with her — and to thank the charismatic LSU All-American for the attention she brought to women’s basketball.
“I don’t know the limit on who I can meet,” Reese said, smiling as she recalls recent encounters with musical artists Jay-Z and Beyonce; former boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.; and retired NBA star Dennis Rodman. “The roles have kind of flipped. When they see me, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, Angel Reese, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for the women’s game.’”
No. 1 LSU ‘s dynamic, high-scoring, 6-foot-3 power forward expresses her passion for basketball in the way she fights ferociously for rebounds, dives for loose balls, celebrates big baskets with dance moves or — at times — antagonizes opposing players with an intense glare, a gesture or a little smack talk.
“I’m unapologetically me,” Reese said, noting she takes pride in competing with the type of edginess and toughness that doesn’t necessarily conform to what she calls a “false narrative” about how women should conduct themselves. “I just am who I am.”
Yet she is also the fashion-conscious “Bayou Barbie,” with her eyelash extensions and painted nails, capitalizing on NIL-related earning opportunities with brands like Coach and Mercedes-Benz as she acquires wealth and fame at a rapid rate. She has signed with a modeling agency — attending Paris Fashion Week is on her bucket list — and this week sealed a major endorsement deal with the athletic shoe and apparel company, Reebok.
Meanwhile, Reese has parlayed her NIL earnings into philanthropic pursuits. She founded the Angel C. Reese Foundation with the goal of empowering women and promoting financial literacy.
The skyrocketing trajectory of Reese’s profile since last spring made her Hall of Fame coach, Kim Mulkey, wonder whether her 21-year-old, front-court superstar would remain as motivated on the court as she was when she first arrived as a transfer from Maryland a little more than a year ago.
“She’s making money like crazy. Is she going to be hungry for another ring?” Mulkey recalled wondering as she sat down with Reese for a recent preseason meeting.
Mulkey said Reese told her, “I’m so glad to be back. I’m ready to play basketball.”
“I was looking to hear that and not have to pull it out of her,” Mulkey continued. “She understands that she just had the most unbelievable year of her college career and it was fun — and you’re not entitled to that again unless you work.”
Last season, Reese led the Tigers to their first national title in women’s basketball while leading the SEC in scoring (23 points per game) and rebounding (15.4 per game), setting an NCAA record with 34 double-doubles in a season.
Her encore is about to begin with a supporting cast that looks even more formidable.
Reese has been joined by two accomplished transfers in guard Hailey Van Lith from Louisville and wing player Aneesah Morrow from DePaul. Guard Flau’jae Johnson aims to build on a successful freshman campaign and the roster includes some highly regarded incoming recruits.
While some of Reese’s on-court behaviors aren’t always popular with fans of opposing teams, they were an attraction to Van Lith.
“That’s the type of personality on the court that I can relate to,” Van Lith said. “I love that competitive energy, like, she doesn’t care — and I love that about her.”
Van Lith also discussed seeing sides of Reese that the public doesn’t.
“She’s a great leader,” Van Lith said. “She cares about everybody. She’s the first person to pick you up if you’re missing shots, if coach is on you a lot. So that’s something that I wish more people would get to see.”
Reese sees herself as a “mom” in the locker room, particularly for younger, less-experienced teammates adjusting to the expectations of an elite college program.
“I’m my teammates’ biggest cheerleader,” she said, adding that she understands — and accepts — that more wholesome aspects of her personality may be overshadowed “because of how vocal I am on the court when it comes to other players.”
Reese was parodied on “Saturday Night Live” because of the way she pointed at her ring finger and mimicked one of Clark’s celebrations as LSU closed out its title game victory. She also drew criticism for initially objecting to First Lady Jill Biden’s comment that both LSU and Iowa should be invited to the White House.
Reese did ultimately join LSU at the White House but doesn’t shy away from discussing how her comments, or actions toward Clark, were perceived.
“I’ll take that I’m going to be the bad guy, but I know I’ll grow women’s basketball and I know I’m being positive and I know that I’ve inspired people,” Reese said. “People can think what they think. I know me and Caitlin, we’ve been cool.”
Reese even expressed hope that she and Clark can be teammates one day, be it as professionals or on Team USA. Likewise, Clark has declined to criticize Reese and says she respects her as a competitor.
If Reese and Clark are to meet again this season, it’ll have to be in the NCAA Tournament. They are not scheduled to play in the upcoming regular season, which could be Reese’s last.
Reese said she’ll decide after the season whether to turn pro. She envisions a long career in the WNBA, as well as offseason stints playing professionally overseas.
Because of how much Reese already earns through NIL deals — estimated by analysts to be in excess of $1 million — she said financial considerations won’t likely enter into her decision. More likely, it’ll be about her readiness to embrace new challenges and experiences.
In the meantime, she’ll relish another year as a student-athlete, even attending some classes in person and not shying away from engaging with swarming fans on or off campus.
“A lot of people would love to be in the position that I am. It can be stressful sometimes, everybody’s coming after me, everybody wants to take pictures,” Reese said. “I really don’t tell anybody, ‘no’ when it comes to pictures because I don’t know whose day I’m going to make.”
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball