Angel Reese was the top player in the transfer portal last year, but LSU -- where she wound up -- was not even one of the former Maryland Terrapin's top choices.
Reese -- who was looking for a fresh start -- knew she wanted to play in the SEC because she thought the elite post play in the conference could prepare her for the next level of her basketball career. The schools she was deciding between were actually Tennessee and South Carolina.
"LSU wasn't even in the question. [LSU guard} Kateri [Poole] was the one that called me. I thank her daily. She called me and said, take a visit to LSU and see how this goes," Reese said. "When I took the visit, I fell completely in love and canceled all my other visits. I guess it was just God telling me the direction I needed, and I needed Kateri to tell me, this is where you need to be."
You read that right. Reese was strongly considering joining Dawn Staley's Gamecocks – the 2022 national champions who were on a 42-game winning streak until falling to Iowa in the Final Four. Reese would've been part of an already deep and dominant roster, and perhaps could have given South Carolina the extra push to survive Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes on Friday.
If it hadn't been for Clark's historic 41-point performance, Reese would've faced the Gamecocks in the title game. Instead, she led the Tigers to a national championship game win against Clark's Iowa Hawkeyes, on her way to being named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Reese is more than happy with the decision she made. The sophomore forward said she was raised by a hard working single mom who inspired her to dream big. When she entered the transfer portal, she had goals written down. Kim Mulkey checked every box.
Reese explained that in Maryland she had to play the five position after Shakira Austin left, which is not something she did in high school. With Mulkey, Reese said she wanted to get her confidence back.
"She's really great at developing post players or big guards or just people in my position," Reese said.
Turns out joining the Tigers was a great decision for both Reese and the program. She has put up some of the most impressive stats in women's college basketball this season with 23.3 points and 15.6 rebounds. Reese is a fan favorite and has been nicknamed the Bayou Barbie.
The journey of 𝑩𝒂𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝑩𝒂𝒓𝒃𝒊𝒆 👑 @Reese10Angel#WFinalFour x @LSUwbkb pic.twitter.com/Lml10kBXSx— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) March 30, 2023
During her team's 79-72 win over Virginia Tech in the Final Four, Reese registered 24 points and 12 boards, which became her 33rd double-double this season – tying the NCAA single-season record. She broke the SEC record earlier this year. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Reese is also the first player to record 100 points, 70 rebounds, 10 blocks, and 10 steals in a single NCAA Tournament.
"I think Angel has grown up a lot. Angel can handle tough love," Mulkey said. "I think Angel, probably she and Alexis Morris get more tough love from me than any of the players. Maybe that's because expectations are a little different, but it's also because they need it, they want it, and they embrace it."
This year's LSU roster started the season 23-0 -- the longest winning streak in school history. The Tigers had never been to an NCAA Tournament title game, but now Reese and her teammates are just 40 minutes away from potentially lifting the trophy.
Not many student athletes get to experience this, so it is taking Reese some time to process the magnitude of it all. Reese said hitting the transfer portal last April and going away from home was "the scariest thing" in her life.
"I'm not really sure how to feel right now. I didn't go to sleep until 5:00, 6:00 because I was just up thinking about how this is actually possible," Reese said late Saturday morning – looking fresh as always with the eyelashes she learned to do herself. "I don't even believe I'm sitting here right now."
An extra added challenge to now playing for one of the hottest teams in the nation has been her growing popularity, which can be both positive and negative. Reese leads all college basketball players in NIL deals, which obviously leads to great business opportunities for her. Her popularity is also how she was able to get rapper Lil Wayne's phone number and got him to do the LSU Final Four video voice over.
One more game til one shining moment!— LSU Women's Basketball (@LSUwbkb) April 1, 2023
Sup @LilTunechi https://t.co/jfCl6PtCWb pic.twitter.com/lBuyvNdEVM
However, she also has to deal with a lot of outside noise.
"Mentally you've got to kind of stay tough. But I have a really good support staff behind me. My coaches are amazing. My teammates are amazing. They have my back throughout everything," she said. "So I take a break from social media sometimes and just delete it or just put my phone down, just trying to just stay focused."
Reese will definitely need to stay focused for in order to help her team beat Iowa -- the best offensive team in the nation. The Hawkeyes taking down the Gamecocks was no small feat, as they were the No. 1 overall seed and overwhelming favorite to win it all. However, Reese is a confident player and is ready for the challenge. She even got herself a princess crown from Amazon.
"To my teammates, this is what we came here for. I mean, we're in this moment. To be in a national championship game with nine new pieces and Kim Mulkey's second year, be happy for ourself, but the job isn't finished, and we're hungry," she said.
"I think that's the difference between us and a lot of teams. We're not going to stop fighting until the end, and I think we just have that dog mentality within the team."
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