Fans were left in disarray after rumors surfaced that LSU coach Kim Mulkey had benched Angel Reese for four games. The LSU Tigers coach refused to explain Bayou Barbie’s situation in November following the Kent State game.

Mulkey later announced Reese would play in Thursday’s game against Virginia Tech. According to ESPN, Reese took time away from the court due to mental health concerns.

“It was a long two weeks to be away from the team,” Reese said. “Taking time for 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.”

Additionally, Reese wanted to avoid being her team’s negative energy, so she took a step back.

“My 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 any harm or any cancer in the locker room,” Reese said. “… 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 disclosed that her support system included her mother and NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal — a former LSU alum. As a result of the mentorship and honest conversations O’Neal provided, she expressed gratitude to him for his guidance and support.

“I talk to Shaq every day. He FaceTimes me every day. He checked on me. He called me every single day to make sure I was good. He told me every day this too shall pass,” Reese said. “He’s been here before. He knows what it takes, and just being able to have somebody like that was something that was really good for me.”

Reese’s first game proved that she had not lost a step after O’Neal passed on his tutelage. Against Kent State in November, Reese scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds. She is awaiting a call from her mentor to discuss her performance.

“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 needed to be, and I know he’s gonna call me after the game if he hasn’t already,” she continued.

Despite many criticizing Mulkey’s vague answers to questions about Reese’s absence, Mulkey expressed her excitement to have her star player back. Additionally, Reese was honored for her career-high 1000 rebounds at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge. Upon entering center court, she received a standing ovation from the Tigers fans.

“Angel is one of the best players I’ve coached,” Mulkey said. “I’m just proud. I’m proud of how she handled herself. She’s back to the Angel everybody knows.”