‘Chi-Town Barbie’: Everything you need to know about Angel Reese

CHICAGO — On the wings of this year’s rookie class, the WNBA’s popularity is soaring to new heights, with one of those new rookie pillars now calling Chicago her new home — Angel Reese.

Reese, the newly-minted “Chi-Town Barbie,” was selected with the No. 7 overall selection in this year’s WNBA draft and made her regular season debut with the Chicago Sky Wednesday.

But to limit the understanding of Reese to only basketball would be short-sighted.

At 22 years old, not only has she become a NCAA national champion and one half of a burgeoning rivalry with Caitlin Clark that some have compared to the likes of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 1980’s, she is a pioneer of the Name, Image and Likeness era in college sports and a growing pop culture icon who has won an ESPY for Breakthrough Athlete of the Year, walked the red carpet at the Met Gala, and appeared in a music video alongside Cardi B and Latto.

PREVIOUS STORY: From Wintrust to the Met Gala, Angel Reese provides new star power to Chicago sports

Here’s everything you need to know about the woman who is about to become one of Chicago’s newest star athletes:

The early years

Reese was born on May 6, 2002, in Randallstown, Maryland — A northwest suburb of the City of Baltimore — Where she was raised alongside her younger brother Julian by her mom, also named Angel, and her two grandparents, Barbara and Curtis Webb.

Growing up, Reese learned how to play basketball from her mom, who played college ball at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and overseas professionally in Luxembourg, which led her to compete against her brother Julian growing up, who grew to be a 6’8″ forward that made honorable mention All-Big Ten at the University of Maryland this past season.

That foundation paired with Reese’s competitive nature helped her blossom into one of the country’s most prominent high school basketball prospects at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore from 2016-20, where she teamed up with future WNBA player Nia Clouden early in her career, before she went on to become a McDonald’s All-American her senior year.

College stop No. 1 — Maryland

Some may not recall, but Reese actually started her collegiate basketball career at the University of Maryland before her ascent at LSU.

Reese originally considered five schools — Maryland, South Carolina, Syracuse, USC and Tennessee — But the hometown school started putting in work as early as eighth grade, the time when Reese first recalled seeing Maryland head coach Brenda Frese appear in the stands at her games.

That level of effort to keep her in her home state resonated with Reese, and the five-star prospect committed to the Terrapins in Nov. 2019.

Despite a Jones fracture in her right foot limiting the number of games she played her freshman year at Maryland, Reese still went on to average ten points and six rebounds per game coming off the bench after the injury and earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors as the Terrapins won both the Big Ten regular season and tournament championship during the 2020-21 NCAA college basketball season.

As a sophomore, Reese returned to her role as a starter and averaged 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, becoming the first Terrapin to average a double-double since 1975, on the way to a third-team All-America selection from the Associated Press (AP).

After dropping 25 points, 9 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in a 72-66 loss to No. 1 seed Stanford in the 2022 Sweet 16, Reese entered the transfer portal alongside several of her teammates and began the search for a new school to call home.

The Bayou Barbie is born, and a hand gesture overshadows a national championship

When Reese entered the transfer portal on April 5, 2022, she went on to explain she wanted a fresh start at a school with a coach who could help prepare her for a career in the WNBA as a stretch four.

At the behest of a high school friend, Kateri Poole, Reese took interest in LSU after the two visited the school together. Soon thereafter, the East Coast city girl found a home amongst southern hospitality.

It was also during this point in time the nickname “Bayou Barbie” started to become popular. Well known for her eyelash extensions, long pink nails and flamboyant fashion sense, Reese credited fans with coining the term shortly after her arrival on campus.

Reese’s junior year marked the beginning of her ascent from dominant women’s basketball player, to a bona fide superstar in the sport.

She averaged 23 points and 15.4 rebounds per game on the way to helping LSU win its first women’s basketball national championship, unanimous first-team All-America selections, and breaking school and SEC records for consecutive double-double’s and single-season rebounds.

Reese’s ascent reached a pivotal moment at the end of the 2023 NCAA national championship game against Iowa when she approached Caitlin Clark and made John Cena’s ‘you can’t see me’ gesture, followed by Reese pointing toward her ring finger in reference to the national championship ring her and her teammates claimed over Clark’s Hawkeyes.

The video of the interaction made its rounds across the spectrum of journalism, calling the roles of race and gender into question when it comes to the perception of trash talk from Black athletes like Reese, as compared to white athletes like Clark.

Some criticized Reese for what they said was poor sportsmanship, while others pointed to a racist double standard where no one had a problem with Clark making the same John Cena gesture toward Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, just two games prior.

“I’m too hood, I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year,” Reese said at a press conference after the 2023 national championship. “But when other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing. So this is for the girls that look like me.”

Clark later came to the defense of Reese, saying, “I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all” in an interview with ESPN.

Angel Reese on not televising debut, wanting Michael Jordan to come to Sky game

First Lady Jill Biden later said that she wanted Clark and Iowa invited to the White House alongside Reese and LSU, a contradiction to the established tradition of only national championship-winning NCAA teams earning an invite to the White House.

True to her unapologetic self, Reese said she would rather celebrate with Barack and Michelle Obama, but later accepted the invite with her team later that week, with President Joe Biden calling Reese individually to congratulate her on the accomplishment.

After the season, Reese went on to win the BET award for Sportswoman of the Year and the Best Breakthrough Athlete award at the ESPY’s, while also appearing in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and raking in NIL deals with the likes of Amazon, Beats by Dre and Goldman Sachs.

By the time Reese’s senior season at LSU rolled around, she was an AP preseason All-American and preseason SEC Player of the Year, before going on to be SEC Player of the Year and earning her second straight first-team All-American plaudit from the AP at the end of the season, despite an early season controversy where Reese was benched and missed four games for reasons LSU women’s head basketball coach Kim Mulkey said were “locker room issues.

Inevitably, the stars aligned again and brought about a rematch of the 2023 women’s basketball national championship in the 2024 Elite Eight between Reese’s Tigers and Clark’s Hawkeyes.

Reese poured in 17 points and 20 rebounds by game’s end, but Iowa ended up getting the better of LSU, 94-87, in what was the most watched women’s college basketball game on record up until that game, drawing in 12.3 million viewers.

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Arriving in Chicago, Sky-ward bound

Just two weeks after her last game in a LSU Tigers uniform, Reese and South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso were both taken in the top 10 of the 2024 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky — Cardoso went third overall, while Reese was selected with the seventh pick.

As the popularity of Reese and contemporaries like Clark and Cardoso set upon women’s professional basketball like a tidal wave following the draft, Reese’s arrival jolted Sky ticket purchases to unheard of levels.

According to StubHub, as of early May, Sky ticket purchases had tripled from the same time last year, with VIP courtside seats going for as much as nearly $2,500 each, and the cheapest resale ticket going for more than $360.

In the meantime since, Reese has settled into the City of Chicago, professing her love for Harold’s Chicken — A Chicago staple — While also flying out to the Met Gala in New York in between preseason games, before making her official WNBA debut Wednesday night against the Dallas Wings, where Reese scored 12 points on 5-13 shooting with seven rebounds, one assist and one steal.

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