Angel Reese Manifested The Life Of Her Dreams After Hitting Rock Bottom

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How Angel Reese Manifested The Life Of Her DreamsDjeneba Aduayom, Styled by Kristen Saladino

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If you want to witness magic, ask Angel Reese to put it down on paper.

We’re tucked into a conference room at a studio in Baton Rouge on a sunny, warm Tuesday in October, and the Louisiana State University senior is explaining her process of manifestation.

Every January, she mounts a vision board on her wall. To create it, she prints out quotes that speak to her and cuts photos from magazines, then arranges them on a canvas. And now, with two months left in the year, she proudly notes that she’s already accomplished nearly everything she envisioned on this board.

Almost 10 million people watched the 21-year-old college basketball star lead LSU to its first national championship and then be voted the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. In the months that followed, she collected trophies at the ESPYs and BET Awards, did a cameo in a Latto and Cardi B music video, and mingled backstage at a Beyoncé show. “I had a ball this summer,” she tells me with a hint of a smile, knowing this is quite the understatement. In the meantime, her Instagram following grew from 70,000 to over 2.5 million—her TikTok, a similar trajectory—all while she inked brand deals with Mercedes-Benz and Reebok.

If anything, her 2023 vision board was conservative. In January, she prophesied a modeling career. By May, she was posing for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit; moments before we sat down to chat, she did the shoot for the cover of this magazine. She also predicted six-figure earnings. Today, her name, image, and likeness (NIL) valuation sits at around $1.7 million.

“I had high hopes, and I manifested a lot of great things,” she says of the past year as she glances around the room, looking at the pieces of art hanging on the walls. None of the canvases are large enough to contain everything she has planned for 2024, though. “I need to find something bigger,” she says.

But 2023’s vision board also included an eerie, almost psychic admonition. When she shows me a TikTok she made of her year-end process, my eyes are drawn to an image adorned with a quote about making mental health a priority: “Put yourself first,” it reads. “You don’t owe anyone an explanation.”

Less than a month after we met, a four-game absence sent the rumor mill swirling over why LSU’s star player was missing in action. Following her first game back, she alluded to taking time for a reset—but mostly, she let her 19 points and 9 rebounds speak to the power of the right mindset. “My mental health is the most important thing.…I’m going to make sure I’m okay before anything,” she said in a press conference, noting that failing to do this could cause a ripple effect in the locker room. “I want people to realize that I’m not just an athlete, I’m a human. I go through things. We all go through things.”

It was classic Angel: self-aware and unapologetic. Challenges are inevitable when you’re one of the most talked about young athletes in America, but Angel faces every one head-on. Besides her unquestionable talent and drive, her resilience propels her forward.

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ANGEL GREW UP surrounded by women who encouraged her to be exactly who she is, and that’s stuck with her. “You don’t see a lot of confident women, especially confident Black women, because people overshadow us a lot,” she tells me in our conversation. “I’m trying to change that.”

Her mom, also named Angel Reese, played basketball at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County and later for a pro team in Luxembourg. When her younger brother, Julian, picked up the sport, Angel decided to go all in. She wanted to be better than he was.

Their small Catholic high school in Baltimore, Saint Frances Academy, was predominantly boys, and basketball out on the blacktop was competitive. It was the kind of pressure cooker in which Angel thrives. Before long, she was one of the top high school recruits in the nation. “Our school was literally across the street from a prison,” Angel says. “I was lucky enough to have skills and be able to make it out of there.” Scholarships helped cover her tuition; she knew that wasn’t an option for everyone, and she dreamed of starting an Angel Reese Scholarship at the school one day. (She donated $12,000 in August to cover expenses for one student for a year: “I gave back to the people who started my journey.”)

Despite receiving dozens of Division I offers from schools across the country, Angel initially chose the University of Maryland so it would be easier for family to attend her games. Julian currently plays there. For the Reese siblings, securing a free ride for college was bigger than basketball. “My mom worked hard [when I was] growing up, raising us by herself,” Angel says. “So that was my payback to her.”

Angel entered her freshman season at Maryland with high expectations to perform—pressure, she admits, that she mostly placed on herself. So when she suffered a Jones fracture in her right foot four games in, she was devastated. She returned to the court just in time for March Madness—helping Maryland win a Big Ten title and make it to the Sweet 16 in 2021—only to then need a rod placed in her left leg for a shin injury in the offseason. She hit “rock bottom,” as she calls it. “I felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore.”

To find her way back to herself, Angel needed to fall in love with the game again. Fortunately, she was already home, a 40-minute drive from the people who introduced her to basketball in the first place. She started journaling, praying more, and nurturing her closest relationships. “When you’re in a dark place, you really don’t know when and how you’re going to get out of it. But my teammates were there for me,” she says. “When I got back on the court, it just felt like a breath of fresh air.”

After her sophomore season, she craved a jolt to her game. She already knew Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey was growing the program at LSU, but “when I got to campus, it was mind-blowing,” she recalls of her first time seeing it. “Everything was just perfect.” The school’s NILSU program prepared a presentation on brand-building via name, image, and likeness opportunities, featuring mega-popular (and now mega-rich) gymnast Olivia Dunne. It wasn’t the primary reason Angel decided to transfer, but she understood that could become her path.

“Everybody used to talk about how Livvy wasn’t even able to go to class and stuff [because of her fame]. I could only imagine what she was dealing with,” Angel says. “And then when it happened to me [after the championship game], I was like, ‘Well, dang.’”

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Her first season at LSU, Angel racked up 34 double-doubles—a single-season record for women’s college basketball—as she led the Tigers to their first NCAA Final Four wins. Angel “pours confidence” into the team, LSU guard and friend Flau’jae Johnson tells me via audio message. “When she’s on the court, she’s going to handle her business and work hard.”

The moment LSU defeated the University of Iowa to win the national title, Angel’s life changed. Her social media exploded, and a video of her flashing John Cena’s famous “You can’t see me” gesture at Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark went viral.

She and Caitlin have been on opposing sides since their high school Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) days. “I love that we’re able to compete and still be cool after, regardless of the outside noise,” Angel says, noting that said noise raises both of their profiles—and grows the game. “People even say Magic [Johnson] and Larry Bird, that era [of basketball] and how it was. If that’s who we are, then okay, cool.…I think we’re both happy about what’s going on.”

Social media had other interpretations. Caitlin, who is white, had made the same gesture earlier in the tournament. But Twitter was quick to accuse Angel of inappropriate taunting. “People are going to say what they want to say, but I know how many people I have impacted in a positive way,” Angel says, looking back at that double standard nearly a year later. “I don’t live with any regrets.”

That shouldn’t come as a surprise—see the UNAPOLOGETIC tattoo on Angel’s forearm, a word that has become synonymous with her brand and a permanent reminder to always be authentically herself. Back in January 2023, she posted these bold black-and-white letters in the corner of her vision board: In the end they’ll judge you anyway, so do what you want.

“She’s not worried about what others are telling her she should be doing,” LSU alum and four-time NBA champ Shaquille O’Neal tells me via email. “She’s focused on being herself and doing what feels best for her. That’s a trait you don’t see in a lot of young people.”

When Shaq became president of Reebok Basketball last year, Angel was the first athlete he signed to an endorsement deal. Already a mentor to her, he also checked in daily during her two-week break from the team. She’s “a true leader,” he says. “Man or woman, in my opinion, there isn’t a player out there who’s impacted the game as much as Angel has this last year.”

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LAST APRIL was my first time witnessing the magic of Angel Reese in person, amid the roars of nearly 20,000 people at the national championship in Dallas. Everyone from Billie Jean King to First Lady Jill Biden to WNBA Finals MVP A’ja Wilson (Angel’s favorite player) was in attendance. It felt as if the energy in the arena were actively causing a seismic shift in the foundation of women’s sports. At its center stood LSU’s “Bayou Barbie,” proudly 6 feet 3 inches tall, trophy in hand and a crown affixed to her head. Millions more fans watched from home as purple-and-gold confetti rained down around her.

As the Tigers lifted their shiny new trophy and cameras flashed, Angel was practically vibrating with excitement at the culmination of years of hard work. “Breathe and believe—that’s all we did all year,” she told veteran ESPN journalist Holly Rowe from the court. “Just take a deep breath and keep believing in each other. Nobody thought we were gonna be here.”

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Given her poise, which rivals that of the biggest stars in the game, it was easy to forget she’s also a college student who still had to study for finals. Fans greeted the women’s basketball team in the parking lot when they returned as national champions, and Angel knew college wouldn’t be the same.

With six classes on her schedule, only two of them virtual, the communications major stays busy. She dreams of working in sports broadcasting and even shadowed Rowe at the LSU–Alabama football game last season. She met Shaq for the first time at that game. “A lot of people have the passion or the talent but can’t deliver the package,” he says. “She can deliver.”

Building a solid foundation for the future has long been a priority. “I’m a businesswoman at the end of the day,” Angel says. “I feel like my brain is everything.” But athletics are ingrained in the culture at LSU, and the school’s student-athletes are celebs. With so many eyes on her, the typical college experience ends when class does.

“If I pick up this cup and it has water in it, people think it’s tequila,” she says. “If I’m speaking to a friend, a guy, people think we’re dating.” The Internet speculated all summer about who she was seeing, until she revealed she’d been in a relationship with longtime friend and Florida State University basketball player Cam’Ron Fletcher since May. She wishes she could go out with her teammates, “but it’s just too much. It is overwhelming for me,” she admits. “I can’t really enjoy myself how I want to enjoy myself and have fun how I want to have fun.”

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She realized that spending time around “more mature adults” at red-carpet events and photo shoots all summer was a welcome reprieve. “I’m young, but I’m an adult,” she says. “I feel like I’ve outgrown being in a college atmosphere.”

When I first met Angel on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit red carpet in May, it struck me how, in the middle of a glitzy, A-list event—at which she was celebrating fulfilling a dream—she lit up the most when asked about prioritizing her mental health. “It’s a lot going on, dealing with school, social media, basketball,” she told me then. “If it’s not peace, I don’t want it for me.”

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ANGEL HAS learned to like spending time alone, with just her tiny dog, Tiago. She does her own eyelashes, an Angel signature, and she finds cooking therapeutic when she has the time. Meditation is essential so she can have a moment before her day begins, often at 4 a.m. She’ll sit on a furry carpet in her living room and practice gratitude, or take deep breaths perched on the side of her bed. “Let’s get through today,” she tells herself.

“When I see her engage as a teammate, on the court and in practice, I think that says a lot about how grounded she is,” says LaKeitha Poole, PhD, a mental performance counselor and the assistant athletic director at LSU. “She’s doing these different activities and [has] coping mechanisms that allow her to be self-aware.”

Poole says putting mental health first is what separates “good athletes from the great ones”—it’s that adage about not being able to pour from an empty cup.

Angel also remains firmly rooted in her hometown friends and family, those who knew her before she became Angel Reese, basketball star. “It keeps my life so normal,” she says. She also includes them in her new reality, like taking her mom to see Usher in Vegas. “Having those connections is something I love,” she says. “I’m a giver.”

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BEYOND HER yearly vision board, Angel regularly covers her mirror in notes to self: “Positive attitude,” “Be confident,” “Pray every day.” She also sets goals. At the beginning of 2023, she wrote “National championship,” and you know how that turned out. Naturally, she has big plans for what’s next.

She spent part of her whirlwind summer establishing the Angel C. Reese Foundation, which she hopes to use to sponsor basketball camps and financial literacy programs for women, starting in her hometown of Baltimore. “Seeing all the players that have made it out, I wanted to be one of those players who gave back,” she says.

Ultimately, she plans to play in the WNBA—although with her growing NIL value and another year of NCAA eligibility left, she won’t say definitively when she’ll make the jump. “Basketball has gotten me to where I am,” she says. Forgoing her WNBA dreams for the influencer lifestyle was never on the table. Just in case she does declare for the draft, one of the notes on her mirror reads “Be a top-five pick.”

The pressure is mounting, but Angel’s taking it a day at a time. A fresh set of affirmations is in view. And unapologetic authenticity isn’t just her brand anymore, it’s her superpower. “I’m a perfectionist, and I have a lot of high expectations for myself,” she says. Pasted in the center of last year’s vision board: “I am creating the life of my dreams.” She’s proof that success and fame don’t simply happen to the best athletes. They’re fought (hard) for—and, yes, in her case, manifested.

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Photography by Djeneba Aduayom; Styling by Kristen Saladino; Hair by Nai’vasha; Makeup by Yolonda Frederick-Thompson

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4TH IMAGE: Aknvas dress,; Live the Process leotard,; Maria Black earrings,; Dinosaur Designs bangles,

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