October 1, 2023
Coppin State excited to welcome national champion LSU and Angel Reese for significant visit
"The impact of this game will be bigger than one night for us."
BALTIMORE — Coppin State graduate student and guard Mossi Staples should’ve known.
“I was like, how you pull that off?” said Staples when she was told about the game. “[Coppin State head coach Jermaine Woods] does many things where I am like how he pulls that off, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I was excited about the opportunity and thought it was dope.”
Coppin State’s veteran director of athletics, Derek Carter, “was surprised initially” when he heard, and then he instructed Woods to “do what it takes to make this happen.”
“It” will happen on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. as the Eagles, members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), host defending national champion and most likely preseason No. 1 LSU inside the Coppin State Physical Education Complex (PEC) Arena on Baltimore’s west side.
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“This is about an opportunity to continue growing the game of women’s basketball and, more importantly, showcasing our program,” Woods told The Next. “We’re happy to have this game. This game is special. I don’t know who the fans will be cheering for, LSU or Coppin State, but I am not concerned. My young ladies are excited about the opportunity to go against LSU. We’re going to have fun with it.”
There are many layers to this contest.
Aside from LSU star forward Angel Reese returning to play in her hometown, the defending national champions are playing a road non-conference game at an HBCU — one that is 1,180 miles from their campus — which is a rarity in women’s college basketball. This contest will be the first time in at least 10 years that an HBCU campus has hosted the reigning Division I national champion in a true road game.
“Putting our schedule together we had an opportunity to go to Baltimore right before our Christmas break that was a great chance for us to bring Angel Reese back to her hometown playing against Coppin State,” LSU said in a statement. “Angel has helped transcend the sport of women’s basketball over the past year since she came to LSU. She loves Baltimore and is very proud to call that her hometown. We think this will be a great opportunity for her to play in front of so many people that helped her get where she is today.”
So, how did LSU end up agreeing to visit Coppin State?
Woods got a phone call from a friend at LSU to run the thought of LSU and Reese visiting Coppin State during the 2023–24 season. The conversations intensified and a tentative agreement was reached in February. It became official a couple of weeks after the national title contest.
For many HBCU programs, especially in basketball, traveling to Power 5 programs and receiving a nice financial guarantee is an unfortunate way of life because these games help supplement their operating budgets.
“I appreciate Coach Kim Mulkey for keeping it so we can help our budget,” said Woods, who is in his second year of coaching Coppin State. “This is our third consecutive year in a row of having a high-major team come in here and play, but this is the first time we’ve had the [reigning] national champion come in here. We can keep 100 percent of ticket sales, and everything is ours. Grateful for Coach Mulkey. It’s a big deal, man.”
“We weren’t worried about the number or the guarantee of the money at the time. We were focused on helping to grow women’s basketball and allowing Angel to return home and give back to the community,” he added.
“I’m super excited to go back home and be able to play in front of my hometown and family,” Reese said. “It means a lot to come home and represent my state, even playing at LSU. I just can’t wait to play in front of all those people who have seen me grow up.”
The environment may be slightly different for Reese’s second career game at Coppin State. As a freshman at the University of Maryland, Reese notched a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds during a 98–52 victory on Dec. 21, 2021 in front of 500 fans in that early morning contest.
Staples, who led Coppin State with 16 points in that contest, has her own memories of facing Reese.
“I did score over the top of her,” said a smiling Staples. “She was huge and I was surprised the shot went in. I thought she was going to send it back to me because it was such a horrible shot.”
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Meanwhile, Reese has been front and center since helping LSU win the national championship. Reese had quite the offseason, taking on magazine cover shoots, music videos, television talk shows, and a feature in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. Reese has become one of the most recognized student-athletes in the country. Her popularity is one reason why Coppin State expects to sellout the 4,100-seat PEC.
In addition to Reese, LSU returns SEC freshman of the year Flau’Jae Johnson. Plus, LSU added top transfers Aneesah Morrow and Hailey Van Lith, along with a highly regarded freshman class, ranked No. 1 by ESPN.
“Everybody wants a ticket,” said Coppin State redshirt junior Faith Blackstone, who was named the NJCAA Division II National Player of the Year last season. The First Team All-American averaged 19.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.4 steals at Community College of Baltimore County Essex this past year, and wants to become a physical therapist for animals.
Blackstone added: “Everybody wants to be here. That’s been the main talk. They’ll support and cheer us on. I learned about this game during my recruitment process when I came here, it was thrown in the visit like you’re going to play LSU.”
Coppin State’s director of athletic communications Steven Kramer indicated alums from the early 2000s who have yet to return to campus since graduating are interested in attending the game. Ticket requests have been furious, coming from northern Virginia, Indiana, and places all over.
“If we do what we need to do in this game, Coppin State women’s basketball can stand alone budgetary-wise, which has probably never happened,” Woods said. “We just want to help bring the community together. We understand that fans are coming out to see Angel and the national champions, but they also get to see Coppin State women’s basketball. We believe they will fall in love with our team as well.”
Coppin State will feature a team with eight new players, with Staples, a two-time All-MEAC academic selection, as the foundation. She earned All-MEAC honors in each of the last two years: a third-team selection in 2022 and a second-team honor in 2023.
“Our goal is to win the MEAC and to do that, you have to prepare yourself before you get into conference,” said Staples, who studies mental health counseling and rehabilitation. “What better way to prepare yourself than playing the defending national champions? Right now, I don’t pay too much attention to a game that is months away, especially when we have ten games leading up to that game. I’m not saying I am not worried about that game, but we have other games before LSU.”
It’s Woods’ and Carter’s job to prepare for LSU’s visit.
“I don’t hide this game from them,” Woods said. “To their credit, [the players] don’t talk about the game, I talk about it. In my position, I must promote this game. We’re not downplaying it, and it’s an exciting opportunity.”
Coppin State is becoming the place for Power 5 programs to visit. The Eagles hosted Pittsburgh last season from the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Woods is already getting more calls from programs interested in his 2024–25 schedule. The Eagles also hosted Baltimore native Angel McCoughtry when she was at Louisville in 2007.
“It’s so exciting that I’ve already had two phone calls from high-major programs about wanting to play here next year and bring players home,” added Woods. “The impact of this game will be bigger than one night for us.”
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Carter said LSU will get the whole HBCU experience as Coppin State, founded in 1900 and named after educator Fanny Jackson Coppin, plans to have a live in-house disc-jockey hyping up the crowd, members of the Divine Nine African American sororities and fraternities strolling, pep band playing, cheerleaders stomping and much more.
“It’s an opportunity for LSU’s student-athletes to experience an HBCU environment different from their routine,” Carter said. “I am sure their players will benefit from it as well. It’s also a great opportunity for our student-athletes to compete against the best. This is a big deal that will allow us to showcase Coppin State University. I am sure first-time visitors will walk away being impressed with our campus, our students and our basketball facility, which is one of the best.”
Written by Rob Knox
Rob Knox is an award-winning professional. A member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame, Knox currently serves as the Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.