The LSU Tigers told you they came to win and push the culture forward… and they did. Whether you like it or not.
By Rashad Miller
The NCAA Women’s Final Four touched down in Dallas this past weekend, bringing some of the best players in basketball’s past, present, and future to the Lone Star State to not only celebrate the game itself, but the evolution of women’s sports as we know it. Outside of just the games being played at the American Airlines Center, the city would host brunches, seminars, and panels to not only educate but encourage the future of sports to continue progress.
As for the Division I tournament itself, the four teams that made it were the Virginia Tech Hokies, the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the Louisiana State University Tigers. LSU would go on to defeat Iowa 102-87, but some of the attention the national champions received was less than congratulatory. The women’s program is led by former Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who is a somewhat polarizing figure. We all know about Britney Griner, a decorated basketball player and current WNBA star who was detained for 294 days in Russia for having cannabis oil in her luggage.
Her former coach was silent and when asked about whether she would say anything about the situation, she said, “[and] you won’t.” She would tell Griner to tone down her sexuality (Griner is a lesbian and has never hid her sexuality since she’s been in the public eye), telling her to “keep her business behind closed doors” during her time at Baylor as well. Mulkey also received mixed criticism about Covid testing during the NCAA bubble at the height of the pandemic. For every other instance like those I’ve mentioned, she’s still recognized as a tough Hall of Fame coach that teaches her players to be tough and to win.
The coach has also given some student athletes second chances and her most shining example right now is senior guard, Alexis Morris. The Beaumont native has known Mulkey since the seventh grade when she would attend the coach’s basketball camps. That would result in Alexis committing to Baylor in 2017 but the following year, Morris would be let go from the team following an arrest after she assaulted someone at Texas State University. It was one of the toughest decisions her coach would have to make.
Morris would go on to play for two more colleges (Rutgers and Texas A&M) before being reunited with Mulkey in Baton Rouge. It was three weeks of soul searching and advice from her father that helped her realize, as the coach said, Alexis “need[ed] her in [her] life.” Morris has said she took full responsibility for her actions and understood why she was released from the Bears’ program and that maturity is why she was nine players selected from the transfer portal to join the eventual champions.
Another player was breakout star and viral sensation Angel Reese. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Reese wanted to (and initially did) play for her homestate Maryland Terrapins. Even though Angel had a great season, Maryland was bounced from contention, and she wanted a change. Reese’s top choices were Tennessee and South Carolina, coached by basketball legend Dawn Staley. Leaning more towards South Carolina, a phone call would change everything. After LSU upsetted the Virginia Tech Hokies, coach Mulkey talked about how Angel ended up at the school in the postgame presser. She explained that she was after guard Kateri Poole and Poole wanted Reese to join her on the team.
It was a no brainer as Angel was the best player in the transfer pool. LSU’s program was everything Angel wanted and then some as she would go on to break and make records while wearing the purple and gold. Coined the “Bayou Barbie”, Reese not only shows style and swagger on the court but off it as well. For example, the evening before she would go on to win the university’s first ever championship, she was hanging out and even hopped on stage with the rapper, Saweetie, who had a concert in celebration of the Final Four.
Angel Reese brings culture to the hardwood just like her teammate, Flau’jae Johnson.Johnson not only plays a great game, her rhyming skills are up to par as well. Rapping since middle school, Johnson has always had two passions: hip hop and hoops. The Savannah, Georgia native has appeared on America’s Got Talent and The Rap Game. Johnson is even signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation as an artist. These two players combined have over a million dollars in NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals and they’re only in their second and first year of college.
As I said earlier, this team isn’t being celebrated by everyone because those who don’t understand would rather be disrespectful to these young women than celebrate them. In the final moments of the championship game, Angel Reese would do a move created by rapper Tony Yayo and popularized by WWE legend and actor, John Cena. The “You Can’t See Me” taunt was used by Iowa guard and the Associated Press’ Player of the Year, Caitlin Clark. Clark has also had a stellar season, but she also talks a lot of trash on the court. Fans and critics alike liked her attitude and grit but when she lost and got a taste of her own medicine, all of a sudden that same swagger was labeled, “classless.”
Before those comments, after South Carolina was defeated by Iowa, Dawn Staley brought up how her team’s style of defense was portrayed by the media that covers her team and sport. “We’re not bar fighters. We’re not thugs. We’re not monkeys. We’re not street fighters…” and she would also say how, “it just confirms what we already know.” It’s interesting that that same attitude was portrayed towards her team in a sport that is physical and very expressive. You have to look at who is having an issue and who is really the problem – and it’s not the Women’s National Champion LSU Tigers.
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