LSU forward Angel Reese waves to the crowd as she...

LSU forward Angel Reese waves to the crowd as she is introduced before an NCAA college basketball game against Kent State in Baton Rouge, La., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU forward Angel Reese was talking to reporters even before she sat down in front of a microphone to take questions.

“How happy are y'a'll to see me? I know you all are," she said as she walked into a postgame interview room for the first time in about two weeks. “Let's have some fun.”

Reese was as ready to play as she was ready to talk.

She went straight back to the starting lineup upon her return from a four-game absence and scored 19 points to help No. 7 LSU defeat No. 9 Virginia Tech 82-64 on Thursday night.

“It was a long two weeks to be away from the team," Reese said. "Taking time to yourself is really important. I just felt like that was something that was important, resetting and refocusing within the team. I’m just happy to be back and this place was amazing tonight. I’m just happy to be here with them.”

Reese, whose temporary departure from the team stemmed from unspecified “locker room issues” that coach Kim Mulkey has declined to divulge, rejoined her teammates at practice this week.

But Reese made some general references to her mental health and not wanting her behavior to be detrimental to the team.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey speaks with forward Angel Reese (10)...

LSU coach Kim Mulkey speaks with forward Angel Reese (10) during the team's NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Baton Rouge, La. Credit: AP/Hilary Scheinuk

“Mental health is the most important thing before anything and I’m going to make sure I’m OK before anything because I don’t want to cause harm or any cancer in the locker room," she said, warning people against believing everything that may have been written about her during her absence.

"I’m back and I’m happy and I’m here and I’m moving forward and I’m going to help take this team as far as I can,” Reese said.

Before the game, it was almost as if Reese had never left. She was presented with a commemorative basketball during a pregame ceremony recognizing her 1,000th career rebound earlier this season.

When the starting lineup was announced, Reese was introduced last, as she usually is during home games. And the crowd, which included LSU football quarterback Jayden Daniels and receiver Malik Nabers, cheered enthusiastically.

LSU forward Angel Reese (10) is recognized for 1,000 career...

LSU forward Angel Reese (10) is recognized for 1,000 career rebounds, before the team's NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Baton Rouge, La. Credit: AP/Hilary Scheinuk

Reese started LSU’s first four games, averaging 17 points and 10.3 rebounds as the Tigers went 3-1 — the lone loss coming in their opener to now fellow No. 7 Colorado.

LSU won all four games she missed, three of them by lopsided margins.

When Thursday night's game ended, Reese shared a long embrace with Mulkey, who could be seen saying something in her 6-foot-3 forward's ear.

Mulkey said what she told Reese was “something I probably won’t share, but it was from my heart.”

Mulkey added that she was proud of Reese, “Just proud of how she handled herself, proud she’s back to the Angel everybody knows. ... There’s nothing but positive things about what happened on that floor.”

Reese said last season that she needs Mulkey in her life and reiterated that Thursday, adding that she needs her coach, “Today, tomorrow, next year, ’til the day I die. I'm at LSU because of Kim Mulkey.”

Reese said former LSU basketball star and current Reebok executive Shaquille O'Neal checked in on her every day during her absence from the team. O'Neal was influential in Reebok signing Reese to an endorsement deal before this season.

“He told me every day, like, ‘This, too, shall pass,’” Reese recalled. “Just being able to have somebody like that was something that was really good for me. He told me when I was right. He told me when I was wrong. He told me what I needed to do to get back to where I am.”

“I want people to realize that I’m not just an athlete. I’m a human,” Reese said. “I go through things. We all go through things.”

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