Women’s basketball phenom Angel Reese on being cast as a ‘villain’: ‘I have been through so much’

Following LSU’s loss to Iowa during the Elite Eight, LSU’s star player reflects on a difficult year. 

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Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Tigers speaks with the media after losing to the Iowa Hawkeyes 94-87 in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on April 1, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

After LSU’s 94-87 loss to Iowa during the Elite Eight NCAA tournament on Monday night, the team’s star player, Angel Reese, is opening up about the backlash she received throughout the season. 

Following the game that brought her team’s journey to a close, Reese, 21, told the press that she had “been through so much.” 

“I’ve seen so much. I’ve been attacked so many times, death threats, I’ve been sexualized, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been [through] so many things, and I’ve stood strong every single time,” Reese continued, per CNN.

A day before the game, Reese told the press how the “villain role” she’s been cast in by the media and the general public this season has been affecting her. 

“I think people just take it like we hate each other,” she said, referencing the viral trash-talking and high-profile “rivalry” with Iowa’s Caitlin Clark that made Reese the focus of significant scrutiny. “Me and Caitlin Clark don’t hate each other. I want everybody to understand that. It’s just a super-competitive game.” 

Reese was painted by many as the league’s villain after she faced off against Clark during a particularly tense moment last year. Reese famously taunted Clark by pointing to her ring finger, insinuating she would end up with the championship ring over her fiercest opponent. While the moment was all in good fun and both players maintained that their rivalry begins and ends on the court, it was Reese who became the center of controversy. 

“I don’t really get to stand up for myself,” Reese shared during the emotional post-game presser. “I have great teammates. I have a great support system. I’ve got my hometown. I’ve got my family that stands up for me.” 

She continued, “I don’t really get to speak out on things just because I try to ignore and I just try to stand strong … I would still sit here and say, ‘I’m unapologetically me.’ I’m going to always leave that mark and be who I am and stand on that.”

Her teammates, Flau’jae Johnson and Hailey Van Lith, quickly chimed in.

“Man, let me tell you something. Everybody can have their opinion on Angel Reese, but y’all don’t know her,” Johnson said. “I know the real Angel Reese, and the person I see every day is a strong person; is a caring, loving person. But the crown she wears is heavy.”

Van Lith, a white teammate who also recently spoke out about the racism her teammates regularly face, noted Reese’s strength.

“I think Angel is one of the toughest people I’ve been around,” she said. “People speak hate into her life. I’ve never seen people wish bad things on someone as much as her, and it does not affect her. She comes to practice every day. She lives her life every day. She lives how she wants to live, and she don’t (sic) let nobody change that. That’s the key to life right there. Y’all do not get to her. Let me say it again. Y’all do not get to Angel Reese. So you might want to throw the towel in because you’re wasting your energy,” Van Lith added.

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Reese says her ability to weather the storm is due to the bigger purpose of ultimately elevating women’s basketball. 

“That’s fine. I’ll take the villain role,” she said before her final game of the season. “I’ll take the hit for it, but I know we’re growing women’s basketball. If this is the way we’re going to do it, then this is the way we’re going to do it. You either like it or you don’t.”

After LSU lost to Iowa on Monday, Reese and Clark embraced and whispered words of encouragement to one another. 

The New York Post reported that Clark told Reese to “continue to be a great player.” 

“And I told her, ‘Continue to be a great player, as well, and keep elevating the game and go win it.’”

For now, it’s still unclear what’s next for Reese. She could be returning to LSU for a final year, or she might choose to declare for this month’s WNBA draft, in which it’s predicted she’ll be a first-round pick.