Angel Reese is living a dream.
Specifically, she’s living Nydia Mack’s dream.
The 16-year-old point guard from Forest Park High School hopes one day to play for LSU like Reese, score with aggression like Reese, never get knocked out of her style or her rhythm like Reese.
As Mack watched the 21-year-old LSU star forward drop a layup in for two of her game-high 26 points against Coppin State on Wednesday night, she held a hand up in tribute to the smooth move — even as several of her friends cheered on the home team. Reese, a defending NCAA champion and rising sports star, represents a dream that she got to watch from 15 feet away.
“I’ve been wanting to go there [LSU] since before she got there,” Mack said. “But she made it more exciting to go there.”
Reese seems to make everything a little more exciting, especially returning to Baltimore with her No. 7-ranked Tigers. It’s believed to be the first time a defending national champion has played on the road at a Historically Black College or University, and for the first time in school history (men’s or women’s basketball), Coppin State sold out the 4,100-capacity venue.
“This is my home, first of all,” Reese said. “I’m the Baltimore Barbie before I’m the Bayou Barbie.”
The unapologetically outspoken Reese has always been happy to blaze a trail — and after an 80-48 win over the Eagles, she seemed very aware of the impact she’s making, not just in the sport but to girls sprinkled throughout the crowd who cannot get enough of her.
“It means everything. Honestly, when I was young, I wanted opportunity and a moment that could stretch my mind. And right now I’m at a point where I have a lot of these young girls’ minds, and little boys’ minds, where they know that they could be in this position one day.”
Implying that anyone can reach her stardom might be Reese selling herself a little short. Aside from the rollicking crowd filling the general seats, she drew several high-wattage attendees: Gov. Wes Moore, Mayor Brandon Scott, boxing champ Gervonta Davis among them.
Powerful people will flock to you if you’re the ESPY Breakout Athlete of the Year, as Reese was this summer. She’s already had a Randallstown court named for her, even though she’s yet to turn “pro” (though her NIL income is a pro salary by itself).
But you don’t need to hear from me that Reese is a big star.
You need to hear it from Zoe Osby.
Osby is a sophomore small forward for St. Frances Academy, where Reese won three IAAM titles and was an All-American. Reese dropped by her old school Tuesday during practice to pep up the Panthers, who started the season at a choppy 4-4 with a youthful cast. She told them to work hard, to come together — then the next day, the team got to see what championship basketball looks like.
“Seeing like a lot of people come out to see her play, and all the energy they give her when she scores, it just feels good coming out from the gym that we practice in every day,” Osby said. “It’s inspiring.”
The most controversial aspect of Reese — her willingness to throw down trash talk anywhere, anytime — is also something she believes is changing women’s basketball. The same smack that is accepted as a commonplace part of the men’s game is what brought some viewers up in arms when she was going after Iowa star Caitlin Clark.
The crowd undoubtedly turned out in droves for Reese, but it also got particularly rambunctious in the second quarter when Coppin State briefly cut the LSU lead to single digits. Baltimore wanted to see Reese ball out, but it didn’t necessarily want it to be easy. On the court, Reese said, the Eagles players weren’t afraid to give her lip.
Good. She prefers it that way.
“That’s what we do in Baltimore,” she added. “Being able to be back out here and the girls talking trash, that’s something I’m used to. I’m happy to be around girls who understand that. And being able to be a face of women’s basketball right now and changing that narrative: You can talk trash as a woman, and being able to be competitive and not take it personal.”
That’s what Mack and Osby like about her, too. In a world that often attempts to bottle up women’s competitive fire with gendered social norms, Reese represents a kind of freedom. You can be as brash as you want, and if you can back it up with your game, you’ll be celebrated.
Reese had her own inspiring figures. Her mom, Angel Webb, was a standout at UMBC, and her aunt played at Coppin State. But Angel McCoughtry, another St. Frances alum and five-time WNBA All-Star, helped set a standard that Reese is still chasing.
“She has done so many things that I want to do: Olympics and everything, and the WNBA of course as well,” she said. “So of course I’m still following in her steps and I still want to achieve her goals and what she’s done, too.”
There’s a measurable factor to how much Reese’s influence has grown. When she last played at Coppin State as a Maryland sophomore, the listed attendance was 500 people. On Wednesday, the only way to get a ticket was to buy at a huge upcharge, reportedly $75 or more.
“They love me here, right or wrong, up and down,” Reese said about the turnout, laughing. “Baltimore’s always had my back. So being able to come home to a community that will always love me was something that was super special to me.”
The other way to get in was to know someone. Former NBA player and current Calvert Hall coach Gary Neal snagged tickets through a Coppin State connection and told his 10-year-old daughter, Soraya, on Monday.
Soraya said it was like Christmas come early. She finally got to see Reese, whom she’s watched so much on TV, play in person.
“I like how she’s like aggressive but also can shoot,” Soraya said. “It’s really cool to actually see how she really does her stuff.”
With an NBA dad and Reese as inspiration? Better start planning to find tickets for Soraya Neal one day. You never know who might be next.