There’s more to LSU star Angel Reese than trash-talking women’s basketball national champion
If there was a Trash Talker’s Hall of Fame, she’d be a first-ballot inductee. But there’s more to the self-proclaimed “Bayou Barbie.” How she handled Jill Biden’s invitation to the White House is just
A fuller picture of Angel Reese has come into view.
Of course there’s the unapologetic trash talker, the self-proclaimed “Bayou Barbie” and the All-American basketball player who gained national attention with her inimitable style –mocking Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and logging yet another double-double while helping lead LSU to the women’s NCAA championship.
But a different facet of her personality was on display last week.
Reese, 20, announced she will join her teammates at the White House after rejecting Jill Biden’s explanation for suggesting runner-up Iowa should come, too. She offered no apology for having criticized the First Lady. Nor did Reese inflame the situation.
“She’s gotten more mature on and off the court,’’ said Nia Clouden, a first-round WNBA pick last year who played high school basketball with Reese at Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore. “She’s definitely grown a lot.’’
How Reese handled the matter – Biden, who attended the NCAA championship game, drew criticism for inviting the loser to the White House in a step outside tradition –came at a time when high school basketball coach Kelli Cofield also was reflecting on Reese’s growth.
Reese was a junior at Saint Francis Academy in 2018 when she punched an opposing player in the face during a preseason scrimmage with Cofield’s team at Long Reach High School. After Reese landed the first punch, the two players got tangled up and exchanged several punches before they were separated.
Reese missed the season opener as part of the school’s disciplinary action, which also required her to apologize in front of the student body, her mother told Andscape.com.
Arianna Briggs-Hall, the player Reese struck in the face, declined to comment when reached by USA TODAY Sports.
Cofield said no charges were filed after the fight and of Reese added, “I’ve seen amazing growth from that time to where she is now.”
The maturity has continued since Reese transferred to LSU before the 2022-23 season after two years at Maryland, according to LSU coach Kim Mulkey.
“She came to LSU for a new start,” Mulkey told reporters at the Final Four. “Get away from some things that she’s not proud of in her past. Not bad things, but things that a lot of people tend to dwell on. …
“I think Angel has grown up a lot. Angel can handle tough love.”
Family link to trash talk
Personal growth has not dulled Reese’s killer instinct, according to her cousin Jordan Hawkins, who helped lead Connecticut to the men’s NCAA championship.
“She’s a killer, absolute killer,” Hawkins said. “Don’t care how you feel. Will stomp on your neck … and she doesn’t care.”
If there was a Trash Talker’s Hall of Fame, Reese would be a first-ballot inductee with in-your-face moments like the ones she delivered against Ohio State (chirping at the free throw lane), against Tennessee (a finger-licking good layup) and against Florida (a swat and a technical foul).
But the issue took on a more charged tone after LSU won the championship game.
Reese, who is Black, broached the issue of race after being asked about her taunting Clark, who is white andhad done her own trash talking and taunting during the tournament. Clark had not faced any serious backlash.
“All year, I was critiqued about who I was,” Reese said. “… I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit the box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too ’hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing.
“So, this is for the girls that look like me,” she continued. “For those that want to speak up for what they believe in.”
But Reese mocking Clark by pointing to her ring finger and doing the John Cena “You Can’t See Me” gesture – which Clark had done in earlier tournament games – overshadowed moments of grace, such as the resolution of the White House flap.
Reese has said trash talking was simply part of the game growing up in her hometown of Baltimore. But there’s a family link, too.
Her father, Michael, was a 6-8 forward from Washington, D.C., who played one season at Boston College and two seasons at Loyola Maryland.
“He was a D.C. brother, do you understand?’’ said Mike Herrin, who played with Michael Reese at Boston College during the 1989-90 season. “That’s what they did (talk trash). Because they were the baddest (expletive) on the planet.
“But it was a healthy energy and a good energy. Michael was just a cool dude, man.’’
Like his daughter, Michael Reese backed up the trash talk. He was the leading scorer at Loyola in 1993-94, when the team reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. (He sat out the 1992-93 season because of academic and disciplinary problems, according to a 1994 report in the Washington Post.)
Angel Reese was raised by her mother, also named Angel. Her mother was a fierce rebounder who played at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and has been inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Criticism linked with race is nothing new for Reese.
As a high school senior, attending the oldest operating predominantly Black Catholic High School in the country, she discovered disparaging remarks made about her on Instagram. The author was a high school girls basketball coach in Maryland.
In a story about Reese at the time of the incident, Andscape.com published copies of the direct messages that ended up on the public forum.
“Celebrating a player (w god given height and talent) and zero humility or impulse control. As a female coach of female high school ballers, I find this behavior repulsive, unacceptable, unflattering and unnecessary. You can have swag while not acting like a punk. Highlight some other girls in the conference who aren’t as genetically gifted …”
Reese’s mother told Andscape.com that the coach – Lisa Smith, fired by Archbishop Spalding High School after the comments surfaced – sent her an apology via Instagram and added, “I felt like she was slandering my daughter’s name, and by using words like ‘genetically’ and ‘God-given talent,’ I feel like there were racial overtones in what she said.’’
A day after LSU’s victory in the NCAA championship game, Reese’s mother declined comment to USA TODAY Sports on her daughter’s taunting and the reaction it had generated. She did not respond to subsequent interview requests made by voicemail and text message.
Ironically, the criticism on Instagram surfaced about a month after a melee involving Reese’s team at Saint Frances Academy. It erupted after Saint Frances lost to Riverdale Baptist, 57-53. This time, rather than getting involved, Reese quickly removed herself from the situation.
“She was nowhere to be found,” said Riverdale Baptist coach Shawn Wright, adding that one of his players triggered the incident. “She had gone back in the locker room while everybody was running around the court.’’
‘Thinking bigger than herself’
Clouden and others reflected on the White House flap and what has made Reese authentic.
“For her to speak up about that was really cool to see, especially since that’s how she felt and she wasn’t scared to talk about it,’’ Clouden said. “But she’s definitely grown a lot.’’
Endyia Rogers, a guard at Oregon and Reese’s best friend, said Reese agreeing to go to the White House was an example of her putting the team ahead of herself.
“I think it’s more her being a bigger person,’’ Rogers said. “Thinking bigger than herself.’’
Cheryl Miller, the Hall of Famer who famously blew kisses to rival fans and pointed at scoreboards during her career, took notice of Reese backing down after first saying she would refuse to go to the White House.
“The fact she was able to walk it back, I like that,’’ Miller said.
Reese’s admirers now include retired Olympic track star Allyson Felix, who said, “I love how she’s unapologetically herself.”