March Madness: How Angel Reese's 'fresh start' turned into an NIL windfall and a Final Four trip with LSU

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The Bayou Barbie comes with a leg sleeve, a crown and a phone pre-loaded with a half-million social media followers. The national championship trophy is currently sold separately. Future editions might include it.

Angel Reese, who early in the season dubbed herself the “Bayou Barbie,” is two wins away from earning a national title with LSU. Her following, which continues to grow with each point, rebound and even lost shoe, is along for the ride from celebrating an Elite Eight victory on the court at Bon Secours Wellness Arena to livestreaming the start of a news conference to discuss it.

“A year ago — it’s crazy how my life changed in a year,” Reese said. “I was back home by this time.”

Scroll to continue with content

Reese, a 6-foot-3 forward, will be playing during college basketball’s final weekend rather than watching it from afar, as she did while with Maryland in 2022. Days after that year’s championship game, she announced she would enter the transfer portal and on her 20th birthday in May, she dropped the news she would join head coach Kim Mulkey in Baton Rouge. It completely reset the trajectory of a team and star, whose numbers are among the best in the nation.

“A fresh start, that’s what I came to LSU for,” Reese said. “I just wanted a fresh start. I’ve done things in my past that I kind of regret. I mean, there’s things that I’ve done. But I came from Maryland and I succeeded at Maryland, but I wanted more.”

Reese averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds a game in a freshman season shortened due to injury. Fully healthy in 2021-22, she led the Terps with 17.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in 25.9 minutes per game. Her 5.3 offensive rebounds per game ranked second in the nation and she was one of the best at getting to the free-throw line. Without a doubt, she entered the portal as the top transfer on the market.

Her award-worthy season success started back in July when she arrived with the Tigers program as a third-year sophomore and a plan was put in place for her to thrive, she said. And she has. Her 23.2 points per game rank fifth and she’s doing it almost exclusively inside. She’s first in free throws made and attempted. Her 15.7 rebounds are 50% higher than last season and rank second, comprised of 6.5 offensive rebounds (first) and 9.2 defensively. Her blocks are also up to 1.6 a game.

LSU's Angel Reese blocks a shot from Miami's Jasmyne Roberts during the Elite Eight round of the NCAA women's tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 26, 2023. (Jacob Kupferman/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
LSU's Angel Reese blocks a shot from Miami's Jasmyne Roberts during the Elite Eight round of the NCAA women's tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 26, 2023. (Jacob Kupferman/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“Being able to be within a program with Kim Mulkey where she was going to push me every day and keep me humble and to get me to the next level, I think what was important for me,” Reese said. “And I needed Coach Mulkey and that’s just what I needed. I needed Coach Mulkey.”


She holds the SEC single-season record for double-doubles with 32 and broke LSU great Sylvia Fowles’ consecutive double-double streak in January. The only games she hasn’t reached a double-double in this season were against Georgia (15p/6r) and South Carolina (16p/4r).

Mulkey credits her positioning and strength as well as her “nose for the ball.”

“When somebody else is shooting, she’s very hard to block out,” Mulkey said. “She’s not going to give up just because you put a body in front of her. You’d better get some position, you’d better get some strength because she’s going to fight you in there for it.”

Reese attributed it to growing up as a point guard and being ambidextrous. She has a good eye for the ball and its trajectory off the rim.


“When I know the ball is going up, I know which side it’s going to go to,” Reese said. “And then I don’t let my defenders kind of box me out.”

Point guard Alexis Morris said most of the time she sits back and watches it in awe.

“I’m just grateful to have Angel because I don’t have to go rebound,” Morris said. “Even though Coach Mulkey be like, ‘Go grab some rebounds.’ I’m like, ‘For what?’ Angel is in the paint. Angel is amazing. She’s our star. She is who she is.”

Reese was named to the 10-player Naismith Award semifinalist list, but was not in the final four of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist and Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley. She was not included at all on the Wooden Award finalist list, sending furor through fandoms. Mulkey said it was likely due to other considerations in the award requirements, potentially her GPA. Nor was Reese shortlisted on the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) list for the Wade Trophy. The star has not contested the exclusions, though Mulkey pointed the omissions out ahead of the Sweet 16 to a semi-related, but off-topic question.


Mulkey’s acceptance of Reese and so many transfers with “history” raised eyebrows and questions about how she would balance them all. Morris, who rejoined Mulkey in the coach’s first season, had been with three teams already in three years. Freshman Flau’jae Johnson has been a rapper since she was 8 years old and is signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation record label.

Mulkey said she encouraged the transfers she spoke with to call her former players and ones who were already in the program at LSU when she took over to ask about the coach. As for her approach to them, she said the players needed “tough love,” “to be held accountable” and “a real woman.”

“I know what Angel needed,” Mulkey said. “The public doesn’t need to know that. I know what she needed. I know what I said to her on her recruiting visit, and I don’t sugarcoat it.”

Reese is a social media star who continues to reap in the benefits of name, image and likeness deals. At LSU, which has a devoted NIL-focused staff member in Jennifer Roberts, Reese's Instagram following leaped from 70K to 530K as of Tuesday morning. With more attention also comes more critiques, and she’s been criticized for her approach on the court, to which she slapped back on Twitter. Her pregame introduction consists of accepting an actual crown from a teammate, having to take it off and run to half court to shake the opponent’s hand.

LSU's Angel Reese is introduced prior to the Elite Eight game against Miami in the NCAA women's tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 26, 2023. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
LSU's Angel Reese is introduced prior to the Elite Eight game against Miami in the NCAA women's tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 26, 2023. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

For all the trash talking she does on the court, she’s been as respectful off of it in interviews. Miami’s Lashae Dwyer was down for a few minutes in the Elite Eight game clutching her leg after contact with Reese going for the ball. Reese gave her a hug and afterward said they go “way back,” adding she wanted to be there for her because of that connection, but also it “probably was my fault.” She often talks about playing for the little girls watching and showing up for Baltimore, her hometown.


Where she won’t show up anytime soon is the WNBA. The league restricts draftees to graduates and players who turn 22 the calendar year of the draft. And Reese has already declared she wants to stay in college as long as possible before continuing her legacy into the league.

“The amount of money I can make in college is way more than the amount I can make in the WNBA,” Reese said on the “Outta Pocket” podcast this month. “So I’m definitely going to be taking that into consideration fo ’sho.”

Reese has more NIL deals than any other player in college basketball with 17, according to a report from SponsorUnited earlier this week. Her latest partnership is JanSport, the popular backpack company, and it joins deals with McDonald’s, Sparkling Ice, Xfinity, Wingstop, Outback Steakhouse and Discord, according to On3, a leading NIL database company. She has a $384,000 NIL valuation, per the site. The starting WNBA rookie salary is around $63,000, with lottery picks making closer to $75K.

The hope is that players’ sponsors stay with them into the W, spurring growth both for player and league. But women’s players arguably have more clout collegiately than professionally right now. And they have better chances at building out more sponsors in college than adding them early in a WNBA career where rookies often don’t make rosters.


Reese also said she wants to develop more before making the jump to a league that is the most difficult to break into because of its size. It’s something Mulkey spoke on ahead of the Elite Eight win. The staff wants to see Reese jump higher, get more and-1s, focus on a defensive stance and largely “don’t rely on your talent to make up for things.”

“Imagine how good you can be if you do things before they happen,” Mulkey said.

Reese has improved on her practice habits, field-goal percentage and free throws. She is very good at rebounding her own misses, but will need to clean up her shot around the rim to really enter the most elite territory. Miami’s defense forced Reese out of the paint, tempting her to hit jumpers with plenty of room, and she made only three baskets in the win. Seven of her points were off of free throws.

The life of Bayou Barbie, which Reese plans to trademark, is completely different than a year ago. It comes with more accessories that could build out further this weekend in Dallas, when LSU plays No. 1 seed Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. ET Friday in the Final Four. As she continues to develop and receive what she needs from Mulkey, she’s destined to take a suitcase of items denoting her success from the Bayou to the W.