Angel Reese’s unexplained absence brings unwanted scrutiny to No. 7 LSU

With LSU star forward Angel Reese missing in action and little explanation forthcoming from coach Kim Mulkey, the seventh-ranked Tigers are attracting unwanted scrutiny at the outset of their national title defense.

“You always have to deal with locker-room issues,” Mulkey said Monday night after LSU beat Texas Southern, 106-47, in the second straight game that Reese missed for undisclosed reasons.

“Sometimes you all know about them. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want to know more than you’re entitled to know,” Mulkey continued. “I’m going to protect my players — always. They are like a family.”

Recent drama involving not just Reese’s absence, but critical comments by some players’ parents on social media, began not long after a surprising season-opening loss for what on paper looks like the quintessential super team in this new era of relaxed rules governing transfers and player endorsement earnings.

On Monday night, Reese was seen only during a pre-game hype video produced before the season, and which features Reese wearing a crown. She also missed LSU’s previous game at Southeastern Louisiana and was benched for a half against Kent State.

Mulkey’s reticence regarding Reese — one of the most popular and commercially successful athletes in all of women’s college sports — has presented a public relations challenge for LSU and opened perhaps more room for speculation than LSU might have liked. Yet, from what Mulkey has divulged, it would not appear to be a compliance issue.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Mulkey continued. “You’re going to deal with stuff. Those kids are like my children, and I’m not going to tell you what you don’t need to know, and that’s just the way I address things.”

During a back-and-forth on the social media website Instagram, the mother of sophomore guard Flau’Jae Johnson, Kia Brooks, made a comment about Reese’s academic performance.

Reese’s mother, Angel Webb Reese, had criticized Brooks’ grammar in an earlier post, to which Brooks responded, “You definitely know about grammar errors when your daughter got a 2.0-or-less grade point average. … Stop being petty, fake and hateful, and take responsibility for you and your daughter’s actions.”

Brooks’ specific reference to Reese’s grade-point average has not been corroborated. Universities do not release transcripts without permission from the student in question and Mulkey has declined to comment on the parents’ posts.

It would be highly unusual for a player to begin missing games for reasons relating to academic eligibility after the basketball season started but before the end of the fall semester.

Reese, who has nearly 378,000 followers on the social media site X (formerly Twitter), has been relatively quiet on the platform, other than one post over the weekend which states, “Please don’t believe everything you read.”

When Reese was absent for Friday night’s 73-50 victory at Southeastern, Mulkey said, “Angel is part of this basketball team, and we hope to see her sooner than later.”

Mulkey repeated that sentiment on Monday night, but declined to say whether Reese would be going with the team for the Cayman Islands Classic this weekend.

Reese’s agent, Jeanine Ogbonnaya, also did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.

Coming off of a national title in just Mulkey’s second season, and with Reese being joined by high-profile transfers Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow, along with coveted five-star recruit Mikaylah Williams, LSU is arguably the first women’s basketball super team since the NCAA relaxed rules on transferring and allowed players to retain amateur status while earning money from their name, image and likeness.

“This is college. This is college athletics,” asserted Mulkey, who has won four national titles as a coach — three with Baylor — and two as a player with Louisiana Tech. “No matter what the NIL is, no matter what they do in pros, this is college.”

LSU entered the season ranked No. 1. But a loss to then-No. 20 Colorado — which has since shot up to No. 3 — dropped LSU out of the top five — for now.

LSU hasn’t lost since, but it hasn’t played another major conference team, either, and won’t until meeting Virginia this Saturday in the Cayman Islands.

Reese started LSU’s first four games, averaging 17 points and 10.3 rebounds as the Tigers went 3-1.

Nicknamed the “Bayou Barbie,” Reese led LSU to its first national title in women’s basketball last season. She also has parlayed her popularity into name, image and likeness endorsements valued at more than $1 million, making her one of the top-earning female college athletes.

Reese led the Southeastern Conference in both scoring (23 points per game) and rebounding (15.4 per game) last season, becoming just the fourth player to lead the league in both categories.

Her 34 double-doubles that season set an NCAA record and her 23 consecutive double-doubles to begin last season broke Sylvia Fowles’ previous LSU record of 19.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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