DALLAS — Angel Reese didn’t set out to be a role model. She’s not even sure when or how it happened.
But now, when Reese looks into the crowd of LSU faithful, she sees purple and gold. She sees sequins in honor of her coach Kim Mulkey’s conspicuous fashion choices. And she sees a contingent of young girls cheering her on.
“I didn’t even realize the impact I made on so many little girls,” she said.
She couldn’t understand what captured their attention, so Reese went straight to the source.
“I’ll ask them, ‘Why do you love me?’ And they said, ‘Because you are who you are. You’re you.’ And that’s the biggest trait I carry. Be who you are, and never, ever back down to anyone.”
Reese and her unapologetic personality have taken the NCAA by storm this season, all the way to Sunday’s national championship game, where No. 3 LSU will take on Caitlin Clark and No. 2 Iowa.
Inspired by her single mom, who raised Angel and her brother Julian, Reese is proud of who she is and where she came from. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, on the court and on her Twitter account. Reese never holds back.
In a win over Arkansas on Jan. 19, Reese lost her shoe during a defensive possession, but it made no difference. When Samara Spencer drove to the basket, Reese held her sneaker in one hand and used the other to deliver a soul-crushing block.
Then, Reese stood over Spencer, who had fallen to the ground, and delivered a few lines of trash talk — another trait she’s become known for this season.
NO SHOE? NO PROBLEM‼️Angel Reese with the denial🚫 pic.twitter.com/hbG0okvoez— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 20, 2023
NO SHOE? NO PROBLEM‼️Angel Reese with the denial🚫 pic.twitter.com/hbG0okvoez
It resulted in a technical foul and discourse over the way Reese carries herself. But the LSU star isn’t going to tone down her personality for officials or for spectators. It’s who she is. And being a role model and a trash talker aren’t mutually exclusive.
“I’m from Baltimore where you hoop outside and talk trash,” she wrote on Twitter following the game. “If I was a boy y’all wouldn’t be saying nun at all. Let’s normalize women showing passion for the game instead of it being ‘embarrassing.’”
Twitter is where Reese addresses any grievances people have about her and her team. Often, young people are advised to think about what they put out into the world. The general consensus has long been that it’s better to keep those thoughts in your circle. But just like she rejects shots, Reese swats away that notion one tweet at a time.
Her candor, both online and in press conferences, rubs some people the wrong way, but it endears Reese to others. And those little LSU fans love it. Her realness and online presence are relatable to a generation that’s grown up with Twitter and TikTok.
“I feel like my life is an open book,” she said. “Everybody sees everything that goes on in my life. I don’t really have a personal life.”
Reese posts “get ready with me” videos on TikTok, sometimes, even on game days. She chats to the camera in a fluffy pink robe and a cheetah print bonnet while brushing her teeth and styling her hair. Social media makes these college stars more accessible, but Reese takes it to the extreme, letting her fans into every moment of her life.
All the while, she stays true to herself. Her wardrobe, full lashes and hair — she gets hers from former Baylor basketball player Te’a Cooper’s company, Hollywood Luxury Hair — have earned Reese the nickname “Bayou Barbie” among LSU fans.
Reese’s soft voice and doe-eyed videos are a far cry from her on-court persona, but both are quintessentially Angel. And transferring to LSU from Maryland after last season — another action she’s received criticism for — allowed Reese to fully embrace who she is.
“She came to LSU for a new start,” coach Kim Mulkey said. “I think Angel has grown up a lot. She can handle tough love.”
Reese doesn’t just handle it; she needs it. And she knew Mulkey would push her to be fully herself.
LSU wasn’t even on her list, but her close friend and former Ohio State player, Kateri Poole, convinced Reese to take the visit with her. Reese was considering South Carolina and Tennessee, but after she talked to Mulkey and walked around LSU’s campus, Reese canceled her other two visits.
That’s how sure Reese is of herself and her instincts. She knew she was meant to be a Tiger, and now, as she prepares to play for a national championship, her decision is paying off.
When the little girls in the stands are cheering her on, they’ll see a trash-talking, eyelash wearing, Twitter-typing basketball player. They’ll see someone who knows who she is, loves who she is and is never afraid of that. They might see her get a technical. They might see an elaborate celebration or a TikTok dance after she scores an and-1. They might hear a spicy postgame quote.
They’ll see Angel Reese being Angel Reese. And they’ll love her for it.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.