Emily Engstler to end NYC’s first-round pick drought

Jessica Villaplana considers Emily Engstler a throwback.

From her old-school game to growing up playing pickup on the playground, the multitalented Louisville forward from Roosevelt Island is a different breed of basketball prospect.

“She’s an old soul,” Villaplana, Engstler’s former AAU coach and mentor, said in a phone interview. “She’s not a social media person. She doesn’t really like to text message. She’s not a phone person or into playing video games or anything like that.”

It’s gotten her pretty far.

The 6-foot-1 Engstler, after a strong four-year college career — first at Syracuse and this past season at Louisville — is set to become the highest New York City native taken in the WNBA draft since Tina Charles went first overall to the Connecticut Sun in 2010. In fact, Charles, along with Epiphanny Prince (fourth overall in 2010) were the last players from the five boroughs taken in the first round.

Emily Engstler
Getty Images

Engstler, 21, really got her start on the blacktop at home in Roosevelt Island. It was where she honed her craft, playing with and against boys after proving to them she belonged on the court. She developed toughness and an understanding of the game facing stronger opponents, and kept going back even as she became a top high school recruit and standout college player. Engstler joked that it enabled her to keep, “that New York City in my game.”

“They treated me just like they would’ve treated any other dude, whether that was blocking me or fouling me, and I liked it,” said Engstler, who averaged career-bests of 11.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 37.6 percent shooting from 3 -point range for Louisville. “It was cool to be part of a group and be the only girl there that wasn’t treated any differently.”

NCAA
Emily Engstler shoots a layup during the Final Four.
Getty Images

Villaplana saw her potential almost immediately when they came together with the New York Liberty Belles AAU program and continued at New Heights. Engstler’s IQ stood out right away. She saw things before almost everyone else. Sometimes, it backfired. Others her age weren’t as advanced.

“Her vision on the court, her passing, she was like a quarterback on the court,” Villaplana said. “She used to get frustrated with her teammates. I was like, ‘it’s not like they don’t want to catch the ball. They don’t see what you see.’ ”

NCAA
Emily Engstler grabs a rebound.
Getty Images

Engstler still has to pinch herself on this journey, first as a McDonald’s All-American after attending local Catholic high schools Christ the King and St. Francis Prep, then reaching the Final Four this season, and Monday night becoming a professional. According to Villaplana, Engstler is the type of person who has to see things herself before realizing they can happen. Villaplana believed in Engstler more than she believed in herself.

It wasn’t until recently Engstler saw herself going high in the draft, following a huge NCAA Tournament. She recently had meetings with the Indiana Fever and the Liberty, which hold the fourth and fifth picks in the draft, respectively.

NCAA
Emily Englster and Louisville coach Jeff Walz.
Getty Images

Now that the moment is about to happen, she’s trying to prepare for it. It will all take place in her hometown — at Spring Studios in the Tribeca section of Manhattan — and she will have her parents, Marilyn and William, Villaplana and Louisville associate head coach Stephanie Norman by her side.

“It’s pretty amazing. I’m extremely excited to see where I end up at the next level,” Engstler said. “I don’t know where I’m going to be drafted, but wherever it is, I hope I can bring energy and production to the team’s organization and help them win. It’s really why I play.”

.

Leave a Comment