Jessica Villaplana considers Emily Engstler a throwback.
From his old-school game to growing up playing on the playground, Louisville’s versatile 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 is not a social media person. She really doesn’t like texting. She is not a phone person nor is she into video games or anything like that.”
It has taken her quite far.
The 6-foot-1 Engstler, after a solid four-year college career, first at Syracuse and last season at Louisville, will become the tallest New York City native in the WNBA draft since Tina Charles. she was 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 chosen in the first round.
Engstler, 21, really got his start on the asphalt of his home on Roosevelt Island. It was where he honed his craft, playing with and against the kids after proving to them that he belonged on the pitch. She developed toughness and an understanding of the game against stronger opponents, and continued to regress even as she became a top high school recruit and standout college player. Engstler joked that she allowed him to keep “that New York City in my game.”
“They treated me like they would have treated any other guy, whether they blocked me or fouled me, and I liked it,” said Engstler, who is averaging career-best 11.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 37.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. .-point range for Louisville. “It was great to be part of a group and to be the only girl there who wasn’t treated differently.”
Villaplana saw their potential almost immediately when they joined the New York Liberty Belles AAU program and continued on to New Heights. Engstler’s IQ stood out immediately. He saw things before almost everyone else. At times, he backfired. Others his age were not so advanced.
“His vision on the floor, his passing, he was like a quarterback on the floor,” Villaplana said. “He used to get frustrated with his teammates. I was like, ‘It’s not like they don’t want to catch the ball. They don’t see what you see. ”
Engstler has yet to pinch himself 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 professional. According to Villaplana, Engstler is the type of person who has to see things for himself before realizing that they can happen. Villaplana believed in Engstler more than she believed in herself.
It wasn’t until recently that Engstler found himself at the top of the draft after a great NCAA Tournament. He recently had meetings with the Indiana Fever and Liberty, who have the fourth and fifth picks in the draft, respectively.
Now that the moment is about to happen, she is trying to prepare for it. It will all take place in her hometown of Spring Studios in the Tribeca section of Manhattan, and will have her parents, Marilyn and William, Villaplana, and associate head coach from Louisville, Stephanie Norman, by her side.
“It’s pretty amazing. I’m really excited to see where I end up at the next level,” Engstler said. That’s why I play.”