DALLAS – Through the final buzzer in the final game of the season, Angel Reese was unapologetically herself. She was tenacious when she went after rebounds, grabbing missed shots with both hands. And she talked her talk as she walked her walk.

In the final moments of the women’s basketball national championship at the American Airlines Center on Sunday, Reese waved her hand in front of her face as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark walked by, imitating professional wrestler John Cena’s signature taunt: “You can’t see me.” Just a week earlier, Clark had done the same thing to Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith in an Elite Eight clash where the Hawkeyes beat the Cardinals.

As Clark kept walking, Reese pointed at her ring finger. Reese was going to get to put a championship rock on hers. Clark wasn’t, and Reese let her know it.

Clark, the consensus National Player of the Year, and Reese, a first-team AP All-American, have been two of the game’s most notorious trash talkers all season long. Clark had often been praised for her confidence, while Reese was judged for similar actions that her critics called brash and cocky.

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Now, Reese is a national champion.

“I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit in a box that y’all want me to be in. ‘I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto.’ Y’all told me that all year,” Reese said after Lousiana State beat the Hawkeyes 102-85. “When other people do it, y’all say nothing. So, this was for the girls that look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in.”

Reese – who grew up in Baltimore – had 15 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals as LSU won its first-ever national title in women’s basketball. Reese’s assist total tied a season-high for her.

And after she had 24 points, 12 rebounds and three steals in LSU’s national semifinal win over Virginia Tech, Reese was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, making the St. Frances Academy product the first player from Baltimore to win the prestigious award, and the third from the state of Maryland. Michelle Marciniak who was born in Silver Spring, was named MOP playing for Tennessee in 1996, and Upper Marlboro’s Chloe Jackson won it playing for Kim Mulkey’s 2019 Baylor team.

With the help of Reese, Mulkey is now the first head coach in the history of Division I women’s basketball to win national titles at two different schools.

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Not long after the confetti fell on Reese and the other Tigers celebrating around her, her mom – who shares the same name as her daughter – and brother Julian were escorted to the court to join in on the jubilee.

Reese’s mom, wearing a jean jacket and a black baseball cap, shared a group hug with her daughter and son as the confetti lay at their feet.

“It’s like so surreal. I can’t believe it. I’m in shock. I’m proud. I’m happy,” Reese’s mother said. “It’s all paid off. It’s been worth the sweat and the tears. Just to see what has happened in less than a year.”

DALLAS, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Lady Tigers cuts down a piece of the net after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 102-85 during the 2023 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament championship game at American Airlines Center on April 02, 2023 in Dallas, Texas.
DALLAS, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Lady Tigers cuts down a piece of the net after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 102-85 during the 2023 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament championship game at American Airlines Center on April 02, 2023 in Dallas, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

And she assured a reporter that her daughter isn’t going to change her ways.

“With all the criticism, yes, this is worth it,” Reese’s mother said. “Her attitude is going to stay. Her competitiveness is going to stay… Baltimore, stand up. You just have no idea. I’m just so proud of her.”

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Both Angel’s mom and her brother Julian have had a front-row seat to Reese’s journey in the past year. She left the University of Maryland, where Julian plays, in search of a program where she could be herself. She found that at LSU with Mulkey.

“It’s crazy. I feel like I just won the natty,” Reese’s brother Julian, a sophomore forward for the Terps said. “She deserves it. She deserves everything coming her way. A lot of people talked about her, and she just blocked them out. How much she loves the game is just amazing. It inspires me to do more and to be great.”

Gary Redus II has had an even closer look at Reese’s on-court development this year. As an assistant coach for LSU who often works with the Tigers’ post players, he knew that Reese wanted to cut down on her fouls, make her shooting touch better and help elevate LSU back into a status worthy of a contender.

While Redus and fellow LSU assistant Bob Starkey have certainly helped Reese reach her goals, he gives all the credit to her. Reese is a big reason why LSU was able to cut down the nets for the first time ever.

“It’s been a lot of hard work from Angel. She was really intentional about the things she wanted to improve,” Redus said. “We wanted her to be herself. You know, she came here for a fresh start. And she came here to be Angel Reese. And I think we all got to see the best version of Angel Reese.

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“This is why you allow Angel Reese to be Angel Reese, to win a national championship, man.”

Kalani Brown has admired Reese from afar. A post player herself, Brown was the centerpiece of Mulkey’s 2019 Baylor team that beat Notre Dame for the national championship in Tampa, and she showed up in LSU’s locker room to celebrate after the Tigers’ win. Brown plays – now in the WNBA with the Dallas Wings – with a personality that is unashamed and true to herself. The 6-foot-7 Brown sometimes stares down opponents after blocking shots and smiles after swishing mid-range jumpers. She, like Reese, can be both glamourous and intimidating.

A native of Louisiana who played for Mulkey, Brown is happy to see Reese carry on a tone that she believes her Baylor team helped set in women’s college basketball.

“She’s bringing that trash talk, that little bayou swag, that girly. And I feel like we paved the way for that – you know, I wear my hair, I wear my lashes. I just love the whole Bayou Barbie thing. I’m here for it,” Brown said of Reese. “I love that girls are being more girly and showing that we can be pretty and we can play, showing girls that we don’t have to look like boys or act like boys, breaking that stigma. Angel Reese and a couple other players are paving the way for that.”

After the trophies were handed out, a large group of folks still waited in the bleachers for Reese. She waved at them, then quickly ducked under the rope separating LSU’s players from the crowd and media. Reese hopped over a press table to give friends and families hugs and handshakes and to take selfies. A security guard approached and tried to whisk her away. Reese shook her head, “No. I’m cool here.”

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It was another moment where Reese was comfortably defiant. She was herself, and she was a champion. There wasn’t much the arena personnel could do.

And there’s nothing anyone can do to change Reese, the way she plays or the way she acts. Nor should they. Reese has two years of eligibility left in college basketball. Her dominance of the sport has only just begun.

“I have all the screenshots of what everybody has said about me all season,” Reese said. “What are you going to say now?”

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