Hailey Van Lith only visited LSU once, but the guard knew right away that she wanted to be a Tiger.
During her official visit, the Louisville transfer was struck by the team’s chemistry and the way the coaches and players uplift each other. Her experience, she says, was a direct contrast to the narratives she often sees about the team.
“I think sometimes the way the media tries to talk about LSU, it can be almost like in a negative way about their attitudes or who they are as people,” Van Lith told Just Women’s Sports during WNBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas.
“It was just an eye-opening experience getting to meet them all. They were the most welcoming, supportive, like loving group of girls, and what I loved about it most is they all wanted to see each other do well.”
LSU established itself as a desirable place for transfers after Angel Reese left Maryland in 2022 and had a breakout year for coach Kim Mulkey’s team on and off the court. Reese led the Tigers to their first national championship, while simultaneously seeing her personal brand take off.
As of June, Reese’s NIL value was reported to be valued at $1.6 million. Since then, she’s appeared in a Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit edition and a music video for Latto and Cardi B’s “Put it on Da Floor Again.” She’s also had a court named after her in her hometown of Randallstown, Md.
Teammate Flau’jae Johnson has enjoyed similar success after her freshman campaign thanks to a budding rap career, which she has pursued in tandem with basketball for years.
The team’s growing list of accomplishments haven’t affected the way LSU players treat each other, and that drew Van Lith to the program.
“Nobody was trying to take someone else’s success down for them to shine brighter,” she said. “Everyone lifted each other up and accepted each other. It was just an environment that you don’t see a lot of, especially with people who are so successful.”
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Van Lith is also looking forward to playing in front of LSU’s fans. The Tigers were fifth in the country last season in total attendance, behind South Carolina, Iowa, UConn and Tennessee. They also set a record on LSU’s Senior Night, when 15,721 fans attended the team’s regular season finale at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, a 74-59 win over Mississippi State.
“The fan base is just crazy,” Van Lith said. “The support for women’s basketball is insane. And that really drew me in because as a player that has that flair, has that swag, I love to entertain a crowd. So it’s important for me to be in an environment where I have a crowd to entertain, because that’s a part of why I love basketball so much.”
Van Lith comes to LSU after graduating from Louisville in the spring. She finished her degree in three years and now enters the Tigers program as a graduate transfer for her senior season. Van Lith averaged 15.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game during her career as a Cardinal. Named to two All-ACC First Teams, she led Louisville to the Final Four last season.
Van Lith, 21, joins fellow transfer Aneesah Morrow from DePaul on LSU’s roster, making the Tigers an early favorite for the 2023 NCAA Championship.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.