NEW YORK —?As soon as the clock ticked down on the end of LSU’s season with Monday night’s 94-87 loss to Iowa in the Elite Eight, the clock started ticking on Angel Reese and Hailey Van Lith’s decision time.

Ticking loudly.

The WNBA gives eligible players a scant 48 hours from the end of their seasons to chose whether or not to make themselves eligible for the 2024 draft, which will be in Brooklyn on April 15.

Some marquee players such as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso already made their decisions and announcements, even though their teams now are headed to Cleveland for the Women’s Final Four.

If Reese and Van Lith have made up their minds, they haven’t made their plans public. In Monday’s emotional postgame news conference, Reese (not Van Lith) was asked and gave only this response:

“I’ll make a decision when I’m ready.”

For both players, the decision should be this: They should come back and play one more season for LSU in 2024-25.

Let’s be honest. It would be of greatest benefit to LSU if both players returned. Reese, like Clark, is a generational talent who can draw other great players to want to play with her, as she did Aneesah Morrow and Van Lith this season. Her 17 points and 20 rebounds Monday before fouling out — a game in which Reese didn’t even really play her best — is a testament to that.

There is a caveat when it comes to the value of Van Lith returning: LSU needs to bring in a true point guard to allow her to slide back into her natural and potent position of shooting guard. What that would mean for the dynamic with LSU’s two other regular shooting guards?— rising star Flau’jae Johnson and sophomore-to-be Mikaylah Williams?— would have to be worked out. It might require some finesse to make it palatable to all concerned. Someone might have to accept a “sixth man” role. But it would be beneficial to all.

Reese has demonstrated to WNBA teams that she can rebound with the best of them. She still has to show she can be effective facing the basket and shooting medium- to long-range jumpers. This season, Reese was 1 of 9 from 3-point range. Monday she missed both of her medium jump shots?— one from just off the free-throw line, the other from right wing about 10 feet out.

Morrow, LSU’s other post player, made only 22% of her 3-pointers this season, but her 13 total makes still far eclipsed Reese. As a smallish post player on the professional/international level (6-foot-3), Reese has to develop a more complete game.

The WNBA is no place for on-the-job training.

Then there is the matter of branding. Reese has the second-best NIL valuation of any women’s college basketball player at $1.8 million, behind Clark’s $3.1 million. Clark ranks just behind LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne at $3.6 million, while Johnson is at $1.1 million.

Van Lith slipped out of the On3 top 100 despite a high-profile deal with Adidas, which has her image on a storefront in lower Manhattan next to that of soccer great Lionel Messi.

Reese is projected as a top-10 pick but that is not a lock. Van Lith is likely to go in the second or third round — or possibly settle for undrafted free agency.

It is a misunderstanding to think their endorsement deals won’t follow each of them to the pros, but will they be affected if they aren’t immediate stars on the next level? Frankly, the WNBA already suffers an exposure deficit compared with women’s college basketball as it is.

For weeks, LSU coach Kim Mulkey has been talking like she expects Reese and Van Lith to go pro. But Monday night, she took a slightly different tack when talking about the two star players:

“Well, I hope it’s not her last game,” Mulkey said, addressing a question specifically about Van Lith. Then she added, “But if it is, I’m proud to have been her coach for a year. She’s got another year if she wants to come back. So does Angel. I know they have to make decisions.”

The plain truth is LSU, with the right portal addition or two and with all of its starters plus point guard Last-Tear Poa returning, could be scary. LSU already has 6-5 transfer former Arkansas forward Jersey Wolfenbarger and has signed Louisiana Gatorade player of the year Jada Richard, a guard from Lafayette Christian.

You can expect Mulkey and her staff to piece together another formidable team for next season regardless. Their job would be easier — much easier — if Reese and Van Lith are back on the roster.

For more LSU sports updates, sign up for our newsletter at theadvocate.com/lsunewsletter

Tags