LSU coach Kim Mulkey’s player conflict history, from Brittney Griner to Angel Reese

Recent drama within the LSU women’s basketball program has resurrected questions about how well head coach Kim Mulkey gets along with players.

Mulkey, one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, has been a polarizing figure dating back to her time at Baylor. She infamously lost touch with Brittney Griner, one of her best-ever talents, and has sometimes bickered with the media over the past two decades.

 

Now, Mulkey and LSU star Angel Reese are reportedly at odds. A season-opening loss and Reese’s unexplained time away from the team have prompted dispute speculation.

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Below, find in-depth timelines of Kim Mulkey’s relationships with Reese and Griner based on everything that is publicly known…

Kim Mulkey’s relationship with Angel Reese, explained


The relationship between Reese and Mulkey at LSU has been scrutinized this week amid Reese’s mysterious departure from the team and Mulkey’s comments about veteran players after a season-opening loss to Colorado.

Talk of a rift is relatively new. After all, Reese transferred from Maryland to LSU largely because of the coach.

“I chose LSU and Kim Mulkey because of the winning culture,” Reese said when announcing her decision in 2022. “I trust in Coach Kim and her staff to help develop me into the player I need to be for the next level. Her resume speaks for itself, and I want to continue that here at LSU.”

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Kim Mulkey typically wears colorful clothing as she coaches basketball games from the sideline.
Kim Mulkey typically wears colorful clothing as she coaches basketball games from the sideline. 
Image:
NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
At least publicly, Reese and Mulkey remained on friendly terms throughout last season en route to a national championship.

This year has been more challenging for everyone at LSU. After the Tigers lost to Colorado to begin their title defense, Mulkey ripped her squad, naming only two players who met her expectations. Reese was not one of those spared from criticism.

“I’m disappointed and surprised in some individual players that I thought would just be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” Mulkey said after falling to the Buffaloes. “But I knew what we faced. When you have that many kids that played that many minutes together [as Colorado], we had our hands full. Colorado did exactly what I thought they would do.”

Mulkey added: “You live with poor shooting, you live with a tough night offensively. What I don’t live with is just guts and fight and physical play [not being there]. I just didn’t think we had that tonight.”

About one week later, Mulkey benched Reese in what she would only call a “coach’s decision.” Then, LSU left Reese at home for this past Friday’s game against Southeastern. As of Sunday afternoon, the forward’s status remains unclear.


Neither Reese nor Mulkey have confirmed they have issues with each other, but the recent developments have prompted speculation of a conflict.

Mulkey has a track record of problems with star players, including a feud with Brittney Griner when she coached Baylor.

Kim Mulkey’s conflict with Brittney Griner, explained

Griner is one of the greatest players Mulkey has ever worked with, putting up absurd numbers and leading Baylor to a national title in 2011-12. Griner averaged 22.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game in college.

She was a four-time All-American and All-Conference honoree. The 6-foot-8 post threat won the Wooden Award, AP Player of the Year and Naismith Award two times apiece. Her efforts in Baylor’s championship run brought her NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player recognition.

But behind the scenes, Griner and Mulkey did not always get along. Griner’s father once told ESPN that the coach never contacted his daughter after her final NCAA game. Ex-college stars Queen Egbo and Shakira Austin have criticized Mulkey for making her name off the back of players like Griner before moving on unceremoniously.

 

Griner has claimed she had to hide her sexual orientation while playing under Mulkey at Baylor, telling ESPN in 2013 that leaving the school took a weight off her shoulders. “When I was at Baylor, I wasn’t fully happy because I couldn’t be all the way out,” Griner said to ESPN. “It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, black lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better.”

Mulkey didn’t address the allegations directly but said, “Brittney will always be a celebrated member of the Baylor family.”

The apparent friction between Mulkey and Griner returned to the fore when Russian authorities detained Griner for almost 10 months after finding her guilty of bringing illegal drugs into the country.

Before the United States brought Griner back through a prisoner swap, Mulkey declined to answer questions from reporters about her former player.

But in a “Tiger Rag” podcast appearance, Mulkey said, “I don’t make public comments. I think that is a personal issue. You just want everybody to come home safely, and I pray for Brittney. I want her home safely. I think there are lots of people speaking out on her behalf, and those of us who don’t necessarily speak publicly are praying for her.”

Still, some in the WNBA and college basketball communities felt Mulkey could have shown more support. “I will say it again. SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES,” wrote Griner’s former Baylor teammate, Chloe Jackson.

After Griner’s release, Mulkey gave a short statement to ESPN, writing, “God is good. Prayers are powerful. Brittney is on her way home, where she belongs. Our prayers remain with her and her family as they recover and heal together.”

They still don’t communicate with one another.

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