Decision time arrives for Angel Reese: WNBA or LSU?

On3 imageby:Pete Nakos04/02/24

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Sitting between Flau’jae Johnson and Hailey Van Lith on Monday night, Angel Reese wiped back tears as her LSU teammates spoke about the type of teammate she is. Minutes before, the SEC Player of the Year had to watch the final minute of LSU-Iowa from the sidelines after she had fouled out.

Nearly a year ago, Reese delivered the first national title in program history to LSU knocking off Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the finals. On Monday night, Clark got the best of the Tigers. She finished with 41 points and nine made 3-pointers.

CAITLIN CLARK SHINES ON A ‘NIGHT FOR THE AGES’

An NIL star with millions of social media followers, Reese has catapulted the women’s game into the national spotlight. She is also an elite post-player. The forward pulled down 20 rebounds and scored 17 points Monday while playing through a reaggravated right ankle injury.

But now, Reese has to decide on her future. In less than 48 hours, she will need to announce plans to enter the WNBA draft or she will return to LSU for a final season. It’s a daunting decision with plenty of options to weigh.

“I’ll make a decision when I’m ready,” she said Monday night when asked.

Clark has broken every scoring record in NCAA history. She’s already announced her intentions to enter the draft. But she’s also the consensus No. 1 pick, expected to go to the Indiana Fever. But Reese is not a lock to be a lottery pick. In a mock WNBA draft released by ESPN last month, the 6-foot-3 senior was slated to go to the Minnesota Lynx with the seventh pick.

Returning for another year and entering the 2025 draft could secure lottery pick status. LSU is also stocked with talent and primed for another run at the Final Four. Van Lith still has another year of eligibility on the table. Aneesah Morrow is a junior and Johnson is a sophomore. SEC Freshman of the Year Mikaylah Williams will be back, too.

Pundits have debated since Clark’s decision if staying in college means more TV eyeballs, too. ESPN continues to go all in on women’s college basketball, recently signing a new, eight-year deal with the NCAA.

“Everybody can have their opinion on Angel Reese, but y’all don’t know her,” Johnson said. “Y’all don’t know Angel Reese. I know Angel Reese. 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. She’s the type of teammate that’s going to make you believe in yourself.”

Is Angel Reese more valuable in college?

Last spring’s NCAA Tournament run and national title turned Angel Reese into a social media star. When she flashed the “you can’t see me” wave at Caitlin Clark and pointed at her ring finger, social media set off into a divisive conversation. Some defended Reese and others called the LSU forward classless.

Along with gaining north of 3.5 million social media followers, the LSU forward became a part of pop culture. Reese became one of the first college athletes to ever appear in SI Swimsuit. She made an appearance in a Latto and Cardi B music video.

The major brand deals are aplenty, too: FashionNova, Mielle Organics, PlayStation, Reebok and Starry. Those widely known companies will still be around in the WNBA. But playing for a final season at LSU could be valuable for her draft stock and NIL earnings.

Reese has a significantly larger social media following than the average WNBA player. The current WNBA salary is not comparable to the NBA. The base salary for a WNBA lottery pick in Year 1 is $78,006. There are incentives on the side.

For example, the league’s Rookie of the Year makes a $5,150 bonus and all-stars receive $2,575. In 2015, The New York Times reported that Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi, a holder of an Italian passport, was paid close to $1.5 million annually by the Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg. The WNBA max contract in 2024 is $208,219.

She partially purchased her own Mercedes-Benz EQS580 a year ago. The retail price for the vehicle was more than $120,000. When making her decision, she will be forced to consider how valuable being aligned with the LSU brand really is.

Despite having her “Bayou Barbie” trademark declined, Reese has built an NIL portfolio that checks off the modeling, fashion and lifestyle categories she wants to be involved in.

 “I think at this point, she’s got the following to back it up where she can be doing long-term partnerships that truly align with her brand and her messaging, and finding those brands that align with that as well,” her agent, Jeanine Ogbonnaya, previously told On3.

Reese holds an On3 NIL Valuation of $1.8 million, the second-highest women’s basketball valuation trailing only Clark. If the LSU star does decide to return for another year, she will not be the only well-known name playing out their final year of college eligibility. UConn guard Paige Bueckers, an NIL star in her own right, has already announced she will be back in Storrs.

USC freshman phenom Juju Watkins is not going anywhere. And Reese would be surrounded by talent at LSU, highlighted by her close friend Flau’jae Johnson.

“I’m not going to let tonight take away from anything,” Reese said in the postgame locker room, per ESPN. “I did a lot. We won a national championship with nine new players. I left an amazing impact on so many different people. I’ve won at the highest level and I’m happy about that.”