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2022 WNBA Draft: Emily Engstler dug deep at Louisville to complete her journey to the pros

What started as the journey of a tough kid playing against the boys on Roosevelt Island, was strengthened by strong life decisions toward the end of college.

Louisville v South Carolina
Emily Engstler (with ball)
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Emily Engstler is as tough as they come and the fact that she battled depression while playing basketball at Syracuse doesn’t change that. In fact, the fact that she overcame that struggle en route to a Final Four run at Louisville and being selected as a lottery pick in the WNBA Draft just adds to the legacy of her toughness.

When Engstler was growing up, she was always playing against the boys and she did it on the streets of New York City. It’s no wonder she developed into one of the toughest defenders in all of women’s college basketball.

Engstler was born in Queens and spent most of her childhood living on Roosevelt Island, which is a part of Manhattan. She followed in her mother’s footsteps by playing at Christ the King before switching over to St. Francis Prep where she became the No. 9 recruit in the nation. She authored the first quadruple-double in St. Francis history and was New York’s Gatorade player of the year as a senior.

Engstler pursued broadcast journalism at the best of the best for that, Syracuse, also joining a basketball program that had been to the national championship game in recent memory (2016). In her freshman season of 2019, she first started catching passes from assist machine Tiana Mangakahia, but only played 15 minutes per game. She contributed a lot more as a sophomore and junior and made it to two NCAA Tournament second rounds with the Orange (2019 and 2021). But after 2021, nearly the entire Syracuse roster transferred elsewhere and head coach Quentin Hillsman resigned. At the time, there was an investigation going on to see if Hillsman was guilty of bullying players. In September of 2021, it was revealed that student complaints about “an unhealthy environment and culture” were not adequately addressed.

Engstler was given a fresh start at Louisville and developed a deep bond with head coach Jeff Walz in just one year, giving the story of her college career a positive twist in the end.

“They took me in for one year and it really felt like a home,” Engstler said on draft night. “Coach Walz has meant the world to me. Coach (Stephanie) Norman, Coach Sam (Purcell), Coach JP (Jonneshia Pineda), everybody on the staff. My teammates were super great to play with, just the fiery-ness in all of them. You don’t always get to find that when you feel like you have it in yourself, but I got to find it in them, and they brought out the best in me. I think that’s what mattered the most.”

Engstler averaged a career-best 11.6 points, 2.5 steals and 1.9 blocks as a senior with the Cardinals and became a Louisville fan favorite. Her WNBA potential also became clear and she ended up being the next player drafted after a big three that got all the hype in Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin.

“I’ll be honest with you, (transferring) probably was raising my draft stock to No. 4,” Engstler said. “It was a very smart decision. I made it because I thought it was the best decision at the time in my life, and I’m very blessed. Going there has taught me so much on and off the court, and I’m going to bring that with me into the league.”

Engstler credits working out with helping her get past depression. Indiana Fever fans can expect to see her strong work ethic on the court this summer.