Her jumper at the top of the key falls short, just grazing the front of the rim. Shaking it off, forward Camilla Emsbo ’22 runs down the other way in a few extra long strides to play defense, ready to protect the paint.
The next time her team is on offense, she posts up on the defender, backing her down patiently and methodically. This time, the layup rattles out.
But even when the shots are not falling and it is clear that she is running on tired legs, Emsbo sticks to her fundamentals. The next play, she diligently boxes out as a shot goes up. Winning the rebound, she goes up for a strong put-back, despite being fouled. A few plays later, a screen set for a teammate becomes a hand-off, and Emsbo whips past smaller guards on her way to two points.
It is just a run-of-the-mill scrimmage between Blue and White during the Yale women’s basketball team’s Wednesday afternoon practice. But head coach Allison Guth is insistent that the players should approach any kind of competition with gamelike intensity. Shouts of encouragement and instruction reverberate from the farthest court in the Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Red in the face and breathing heavily, Emsbo is consistently one of the first players down the court in each possession. But she is barely able to squeak out a whoop of her own as her team pulls ahead.
The first year from Lakewood, Colorado, Emsbo is quiet but hard to miss. Standing at 6 feet, 5 inches tall, the 2018 Ms. Colorado Basketball and Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year is both a face-up and back-to-the-basket threat. Ranked as the No. 34 best recruit and sixth best forward in the ESPN HoopGurlz rankings for her recruiting class, Emsbo has speed and agility that is unique for someone of her size, making her a potent scorer in transition and a conundrum for interior defenders. Though she only discovered basketball in seventh grade, the years she spent playing competitive soccer has sharpened her footwork. On defense, Emsbo’s length gives her the power to alter shots, in addition to an enviable advantage on the glass.
With her height and acumen on the court, Emsbo will be a valuable option for point guard Roxy Barahman ’20 in the upcoming season. But Guth does not want to put any limitations on how Emsbo plays.
“We can play Camilla at post or away from our offense around the perimeter,” Guth said. “She can play the point-forward spot on the floor or act as a trail-post. We want her to be the best basketball player she can be and play freely.”
While both Barahman and Guth complemented Emsbo on how she has adjusted to an unfamiliar style of team play, Emsbo will be the first to say that she has been “a little bit slow” in learning the flow of offense and defense.
But despite experiencing the same nerves as any first year, Emsbo does not feel any pressure to live up to the hype that followed her into college as a five-star recruit. Knowing it will be difficult to say how the 18.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks she averaged per game in the final season of her high school career will translate at the college level, she shrugs off the endless accolades she collected in before Yale.
“I’m just trying to put my head down and do my job for my teammates,” Emsbo said. “I know they have my back and will set me up to succeed, so my goal is to have confidence in myself by the end of the season.”
Unsurprised by Emsbo’s modesty, Guth praised Emsbo’s combination of talent, humility and hunger to improve.
From her versatility to her long blonde hair, Emsbo takes after her personal inspiration, Elena Delle Donne, the WNBA’s poster 6 feet, 5 inches tall point-forward. In fact, the opportunity to develop a more Delle Donne-like game is what drew her to Yale in the first place. While most coaches would see someone of Emsbo’s stature as a strict, back-to-the-basket type of player, Guth promised Emsbo that they would work on making her just as comfortable hitting threes as she is bodying players up inside the paint.
“She still doesn’t even know how good she is,” Guth said. “There will be growing pains, but kids like Camilla are once-in-a-coach’s-career type of players, even at the [high] level [we feel] we’re competing at.”
For Emsbo, a crucial consideration when deciding where to continue her basketball career was the Yale women’s basketball program’s commitment to cultivating relationships between players on the court, in the locker room and around campus.
As a two-year captain in her junior and senior seasons at Lakewood High School, Emsbo prioritized building a team chemistry in which players played and cared for each other. In high school, she led her team to the Colorado Class 5A state championship alongside her twin sister, who is now a first year at Princeton. The two have been each other’s biggest motivators growing up and will face off as opponents for the first time in Ivy League play.
At the thought of matching up against her sister, Emsbo’s face lights up.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “There will be a lot of fouls, elbows being thrown — maybe even a broken nose.”
But regardless of whether she is guarding her sister or another player, it is always a physical game for Emsbo. With the stubborn intensity shown in scrimmages and her ability to defend and score from all areas of the court, Emsbo will take on a significant role in place of recent graduate and first team All-Ivy forward Jen Berkowitz ’18.
The women’s basketball team opens preseason play against Colgate on Nov. 6.
Julianna Lai | firstname.lastname@example.org .