Glenn Clark: St. Frances Grad Angel Reese Changed The Women’s Basketball Narrative

Angel Reese

On April 15, the Indiana Fever selected Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. Six picks later, the Chicago Sky selected Angel Reese with the No. 7 overall pick.

Angel Reese finished her college basketball career in an absolutely remarkable way.

Of course it wasn’t with a second NCAA championship. Despite a 17-point, 20-rebound performance in the Elite Eight, LSU couldn’t stop a historic display from Caitlin Clark and Iowa, and the Tigers’ hopes of a repeat crashed.

But the end of the St. Frances alum and Randallstown native’s college career was no less remarkable, because as her career came to a close it became quite clear how significant her role had been in one of the most transcendent moments in basketball history. It appears more and more likely that in 40 years, when we discuss the moment when women’s college basketball fully seized a spot as one of the most popular sports in the country, Reese was smack dab in the center of it.

Angel Reese Archives - PressBox

Yes, Clark is the shining star of the moment. She’s in the conversation for the greatest player of all time. But two of her most-watched games both happen to have been against LSU. She needed a foil. And Reese provided that … and then some.

It’s important that we first acknowledge the greatness of Reese’s own career. She finished her collegiate run as a three-time All-American, NCAA champion and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. She had double-doubles in 10 straight NCAA Tournament games. (That number would be 13 if she hadn’t finished exactly one rebound shy in all three of her tournament games as a sophomore at Maryland.) She holds the NCAA single-season record for the most double-doubles. There is simply no knocking her basketball resume.

And yet, so much of the country was desirous of her demise in the NCAA Tournament. That went a long way toward the record television ratings of the Iowa game. And in a way, that’s another remarkable element of her legacy. She became the first truly polarizing national figure in women’s college basketball history, another incredible part of her legacy. She oozed relevance.

Angel Reese – LSU

But why was so much of the country so happy to see her demise?

There’s no scientific answer to this, of course. My quite unscientific theory is that the obvious guesses (truly blatant racism and less blatant but still inappropriate “I don’t hate people who don’t look like me but I want them to act a certain way” racism) mix with more mundane possibilities (people really like Clark, and Reese was seen as the pro-wrestling-style rival to an America’s sweetheart type of figure).

But there’s another theory that I can’t shake. I truly feel like some of the negative attention thrown Reese’s way is weird frustration about how much attention she has demanded. Many of the folks who opined about Reese in less-than-flattering ways are the same types who have said things like “no one cares about women’s basketball” or who have spoken disparagingly about the sport on the whole.

They’ve denied that wide interest in the sport even exists and have lambasted major networks for their coverage of it. Some have used the word “woke” while doing so despite having absolutely no idea what the term means, but that’s not particularly unique.

I truly believe that at least a percentage of the angst toward Reese herself is based on a frustration that Reese is responsible for forcing casual sports dolts into having to watch and react to women’s basketball. Sure, Clark is a compelling figure. But if the story was just the extremely good but not particularly complicated Clark, casual sports dolts could just say, “Wow, she’s good,” or “She’s an incredible player,” and not have to think anything else of it.

With her skill and personality, Reese forced conversation. She had something to say. She demanded an audience. She demanded opinions. Suddenly women’s basketball (for the most casual observers) wasn’t just one player on one team. It was a living, breathing organism that required attention.

For a great number of us, that has been incredibly exciting. Watching a golden moment within a sport has been amazing. The game is full of colorful, interesting, compelling and brilliant stars and there’s every reason to want to enjoy watching more of it.

But for some, that’s threatening. They’ve been comfortable not having their notions challenged. They’ve been very comfortable pretending the entire sport didn’t exist. Angel Reese demanded that change. And they didn’t like that.

I’m grateful for it and look forward to seeing the impact she, Clark and the next generation of stars will have on the WNBA as well.

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