Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Last summer, with the now-canceled Ivy League winter season still up in the air, Yale women’s basketball forward Camilla Emsbo ’23 was faced with two choices: return to school with the hope of a season to come or take a gap year in Denmark, where there was uncertainty about her ability to play basketball there.

For Emsbo, it was a difficult decision to make, but she ultimately decided to pause her career at Yale and take her talents to Denmark. In recent weeks, she has emerged as a contributor to the Danish women’s national basketball team.

Before travelling to Europe, Emsbo, whose father is Danish, had made contact with a top-league team in Horsholm, Denmark — a town of about 25,000 people north of Copenhagen — where she was able to train and join the local community this year. Although Emsbo said she could not play in games for the Horsholm club team due to a lack of approval from the NCAA, she was still able to practice three times a week with the team.

Coincidentally, Jesper Krone, the coach of the Horsholm 79ers, is also the coach of the Danish women’s national basketball team. Krone offered her the chance to represent Denmark on the international stage.

“It was a really unexpected honor, I would say,” Emsbo said. “That’s how I would describe it. I mean, obviously representing a country at any level is just a lot of pressure and a really, really incredible experience. Just the added element of not expecting this to happen and not spending my whole childhood growing up and wanting to represent Denmark, it was just a really surreal experience.”

Representing Denmark on the big stage is a strong source of pride for her teammates, Emsbo noted, and makes her more appreciative of the opportunity she has been given. Her Danish teammates have supported her along every step of the way, from finding activities to do in her free time, to learning the language and improving her game on the court.

Her Bulldog teammates are thousands of miles apart from her, but they still send love and support her way. Many of them, such as guard Roxanne Nesbitt ’22, have seen the two games she was able to play in — versus the Czech Republic on November 13 and Romania on November 15 — through an online stream. Emsbo grabbed six rebounds, blocked a shot and scored one point against the Czech Republic before notching two points, three rebounds and an assist against Romania.

“I am so happy that she is able to be with the team overseas this year — there was a lot of uncertainty before she left for Denmark,” Nesbitt said. “Although she didn’t get the NCAA clearance she was hoping for, I’m glad that she got to get in a couple of games. It is definitely strange to see her playing with another team but so fun to see her out there holding her own against seasoned players.”

Playing against older competition with more experience and more physicality has been very different for Emsbo, she said, but it has allowed her to compete against different play styles and combine aspects of each to make her a better player.

Aside from just being able to watch her play in international competition, Emsbo’s teammates in New Haven have been happy to stay in touch with her and see her thriving in a new place.

“I’m excited to see how much she has developed, playing against full-grown adults and to see if she comes back with some European spunk,” said forward Alex Cade ’22. “We miss her so much, but happy to know that she is able to continue to play basketball.”

Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Cade and the Elis are excited to see what Emsbo brings back to the Elm City and hope it helps the team grow next year.

Although she grew up in the United States, Emsbo’s family on her father’s side hails from Denmark and experiencing the culture more intimately has given her a deeper appreciation of the little things her father did to share aspects of Danish culture with her, she said.

“It’s been fun to find those little pockets of familiarity in such a strange world,” Emsbo said. “I really enjoyed seeing those aspects of my heritage in real time in a whole new country and it’s really a special feeling. But it’s definitely been a huge change for me, and I’m still getting used to it, but I feel like I’m definitely a lot more at home here.”

The culture was not the only thing to which Emsbo had to adjust, however, as the style of basketball was also different than what she was used to.

Differences in playing style existed even between her practice club team in Horsholm and the national team, and Emsbo said she has been able to use both styles of play to her advantage to help her improve as a player.

“I think there’s a lot better ball movement with and without the ball,” Emsbo said of the differences between international basketball and Ivy League hoops. “There’s a huge focus on passing and really the fundamentals. In Ivy League basketball and college basketball, I think it’s the athleticism that gives an advantage in the post. There’s not a lot of height or crazy athleticism here, and so I think that in the absence of that it’s become a very fundamental game.”

In addition to having a deeper understanding of the importance of ball movement, Emsbo said she also has been able to better use her athleticism, hustle and grit to contribute to her teams in Denmark. Emsbo plans on using these new tactics in her arsenal when the Blue and White return to the hardwood.

Emsbo and the Danish women’s national basketball team are set to take the floor next Feb. 4, 2021 against Italy.

Ben Scher | ben.scher@yale.edu