GREENVILLE, S.C. – A smile started to grow on Kim Mulkey’s face as she sat at the podium. She was going to have some fun with this question. A reporter had asked the head coach of Louisiana State University’s women’s basketball team what her pitch was last offseason to Baltimore native Angel Reese.
“I think that the seafood — y’all have good seafood, right? And we didn’t sell her on crawfish; we sold her on those crabs,” Mulkey said. “Y’all think you have good crabs, but we’ve got better crabs.”
Reese, approached later in LSU’s locker room at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, did not think her coach’s opinion on which region of the U.S. has better seafood was a laughing — or even debatable — matter.
“They don’t know about the blue crabs in Baton Rouge,” Reese told The Baltimore Banner. “They don’t season it. They don’t know. She doesn’t know … And it’s Old Bay. I’m not messing around with the creole stuff.”
Indeed, Reese still has pride in where she’s from. She’s still an Orioles and Ravens fan, and she’s hopeful the team retains quarterback Lamar Jackson. She still prefers Maryland-style blue crabs over whatever seafood they have in Louisiana, and she still plays with an attitude derived from the culture of high school basketball in Baltimore’s gyms.
Ask Reese who her favorite athlete growing up was, and she’ll tell you that she loved Muggsy Bogues, the diminutive Dunbar product who went on to star in the NBA. Considering Bouges retired in 2001 — a year before Reese was born — she likely heard about him and watched his clips on YouTube. Despite being a full foot taller now than Bogues ever was, she admired his game a whole lot.
“Just seeing what he could do at that little height, and then just being a girl and embracing that,” Reese said.
For sure, Baltimore has always loved an underdog.
But Reese isn’t that anymore. Since leaving the Maryland Terrapins for the LSU Tigers last year, she has turned herself into one of the best women’s basketball players in the country. Reese is an All-American, second in the nation in win shares, ninth in offensive rating, and averages 23.8 points and 15.7 rebounds per game — both of which rank in the top five in the country.
She is the nucleus of an LSU program that is a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and is gearing up to face No. 2 Utah in the Sweet 16 on Friday.
Reese has also garnered a lot of attention on social media this season for the swagger and tenacity that she plays with. She is ultra-competitive and never strays away from showing it. A moment that encapsulated that was during a Jan. 19 regular season win over Arkansas, where — while holding her shoe that had fallen off — Reese emphatically blocked the shot of Samara Spencer. As Spencer rolled over after tumbling onto the court, Reese stared her down, and a referee quickly assessed her with a technical foul.
After that game, Reese tweeted, in part: “I’m from Baltimore where you hoop outside & talk trash. … Let’s normalize women showing passion for the game instead of it being ‘embarrassing’.”
On Thursday during a press conference ahead of the regional semifinals in South Carolina, she explained her pride in her hometown and how being from Baltimore shows itself in her play on the court.
“It’s just something that has always molded me into who I am, playing outside and just being able to be super competitive,” Reese said. “I used to play with boys; I have a brother. So, just being able to know that a lot of people in Baltimore don’t make it out, and just being able to have this platform I have right now and being able to put on for them and be an example for them, it’s just something that’s been really important to me.”
The truth is that Mulkey never really thought she would have the chance to coach Reese. The 60-year-old Hall of Fame coach obviously knew who the 6-foot-4 girl from St. Frances Academy was. As the No. 2 overall recruit in the nation, second to only UConn’s Paige Bueckers, everyone did. Mulkey made one phone call to Reese, but she made it clear that she was staying at home and would attend the University of Maryland.
“So, I didn’t waste much time on her,” Mulkey said.
Reese blossomed into a talented player for Brenda Frese’s Terrapins. She battled injuries as a true freshman and played just 15.3 minutes per game over 15 contests, but proved to be important for the Terps in the 2020-21 postseason, scoring 19 points in a second-round NCAA Tournament win against Alabama.
As a sophomore, Reese turned into one of the best post players in the sport. She was second in the nation in offensive rebounds per game with 5.3; was 14th in total free throws made (153); and was seventh in player efficiency rating with a mark of 39.7, according to HerHoopStats. Reese was the first Maryland sophomore to average a double-double since 1975, and was named to the all-Big Ten first team and the AP All-America third team.
And then, the girl who fell in love with the game on the playgrounds of Baltimore and politely turned down recruiting offers so she could go to College Park decided it was time to move on from Maryland.
Reese entered the transfer portal last spring, and not long after, Mulkey was calling her again.
At first, Mulkey — who had since moved from Baylor, where she won a pair of national championships, to LSU — was in disbelief that Reese was attainable. The LSU staff had been recruiting Kateri Poole, a guard from Ohio State out of the transfer portal, when the conversation turned to Reese.
“In the process of talking to her [Poole], one of my assistant coaches asked, ‘Would you be interested in Angel Reese?’ And I said, ‘Yes, we would love to,” Mulkey said. “I think the connection with Kateri Poole, they go way back in their younger days of playing together and were friends. And they came on a visit together with their families.”
When Reese initially embarked on that trip to LSU, she also had a visit to South Carolina scheduled. Soon after arriving in Baton Rouge, Reese canceled her meeting with Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks. She traded in her red and black Terp gear for purple and gold.
“As soon as I got to LSU, they had a plan for me. As soon as I got here, being in shape was one of the most important things,” Reese said. “I have really confident teammates, really competitive teammates that push me every day to be better. So just being in a program where I can just be myself and be who I am and embrace that.”
And all Reese has done since arriving at LSU is help take the Tigers to heights the program hasn’t seen in nearly a decade. The Tigers are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014, and Reese is the first LSU player to be named to the AP’s All-America first team since Sylvia Fowles in 2008.
“I don’t know if I really knew what kind of expectation to put on her, but she’s had a tremendous year,” said Mulkey, who has coached her fair share of excellent collegiate post players, from Brittney Griner to NaLyssa Smith.
Reese leads LSU in minutes played, scoring, rebounding, blocks, shooting percentage and free throws made. She leads by example, but she isn’t afraid to use her voice either.
“Angel is brutally honest,” LSU guard Alexis Morris said. “She’s always going to let you know what it is and what it ain’t, period.”
Like she did when she played on the courts in Baltimore, Reese still has a chip on her shoulder. Despite being top five in the nation in scoring and rebounding, she isn’t among the finalists for the Naismith Award or the Wade Trophy, both given to the National Player of the Year by different voting bodies.
But Reese tries to block out being snubbed and overlooked. In her three seasons of college basketball, she’s never advanced past the Sweet 16. Her goal is going further this time.
“It’s bigger than me. I just want to be with my teammates and to get to the Final Four,” Reese said. “That’s the finalist I want to be.”
Mitchell Northam is a journalist based in North Carolina. His work has appeared in USA TODAY, Sports Illustrated and SB Nation, and he is the author of the book “High School Basketball on Maryland’s Eastern Shore: A Shore Hoops History.”