Emily Engstler

Emily Engstler: Evolving On and Off the Court

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2024 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
W.G. Ramirez
Mar 18, 2024

Through 2 1/2 seasons at Athletes Unlimited Pro Basketball, many basketball alumni have come away talking about improved confidence and a better understanding of X’s and O’s.

For Queens, New York native Emily Engstler, it’s been a bit more uplifting than what she expected, and what she’s gaining on the court.

“I have many people in my life, friends and family, who deal with deep mental health issues, and it’s really sad and scary,” she said. “And I tell them, ‘You need to talk to somebody, it’s going to help. You can’t do this by yourself.'”

If anyone knows, it’s Engstler, who struggled with her mental health during her early college years and continues her growth and healing, a maturation process that has helped her evolve as a professional.

At AU Pro Basketball, the support has been tremendous.

“I am definitely not at a point in my career where I think I can settle,” said Engstler, who has been one of AU’s top newcomers and broke the league’s single-season blocks record in Week Three. “I’m still grinding, I’m still trying to get into the (WNBA). I can use those (mental health) victories right now. I got a chance to be with Athletes Unlimited. All these pro players around me who’s dealt with the same things, I’m having conversations with them and it’s giving me an easier time to come in and have more confidence and be more excited for this training camp.”


Her evolution, she said, has been much in part to being open to conversation the past couple of years, while she’s worked as much on her mental health as she has her on-court skills.

Talking to veterans such as Theresa Plaisance, Natasha Cloud, and Ty Young has helped tremendously, as it reminds Engstler that even some of the longest-standing names in professional women’s basketball have shared the same emotions.

Engstler attended the Washington Mystics’ training camp last year and had a handful of conversations with Cloud, now a member of the Phoenix Mercury. But during this AU season, the two have spoken at length, for hours, and the veteran has provided a wealth of hope for Engstler.

“Props to (Athletes Unlimited for) the people that they’re pulling in, because they’ve done a really good job,” Engstler said. “As a younger player, I’m able to talk to them. They’re very easy to learn from. It’s tough love but it’s good, it’s not demeaning. They’ve done a really good job of making me feel better about my third year going pro, whether that’s the W or overseas.”

If Engstler had it her way, she would push for better resources at the high school level, preparing athletes for college.

Engstler said when she was playing at Christ the King in Queens there wasn’t much to worry about, going about life carefree while enjoying her time attending and playing for her hometown high school.

Things changed when she got to Syracuse.

“There was so much more pressure around being an athlete … and that’s when I think I dealt with my own issues,” she said. “And one of the hardest things was I had the resources, but I was embarrassed or afraid to use them. I think it’s important to show high schoolers that there is help so when they get to the more pressured age, because at this point with all the money involved, it’s getting younger and younger, the pressure of playing sports.

“I think college was so difficult, so many emotions, so many things going on. I made numerous bad decisions because of my mental health at certain points in my career and life. And by the time I became a pro, I wish I did it differently, in some aspects. I dealt with a lot of anxiety, and I didn’t know how to control it or figure it out.”


Though it’s been a grind for Engstler the past two years, she’s found herself grinding and leaning on close friends when she hits mental blocks.

“The biggest thing that I do use is the people in my circle,” Engstler said. “There are a couple of people who I talk to for different things and they keep my head up high. I’m at a very good place in my life right now mentally, I’m really trying to capitalize on it because I also think I’m at a point in my career where I can make a roster and make some stability out of my career.”

After being selected fourth overall pick by the Indiana Fever in 2022, and playing 12 games with the Minnesota Lynx last season, Engstler is hoping to latch on with the Mystics after signing a training camp contract with them in February.

And that’s where the confidence of everyone else who’s played at AU comes into play for Engstler, who is feeling both mentally and physically at her best after battling a shoulder injury last season.

“AU is a very important league. It gives players who might have been struggling a real chance to hoop. We all feel like we’re on the same level playing field and it’s just a really good opportunity. I would say my game has definitely been more confident. It’s definitely boosted mine from just two weeks of play. I would say my game from when I first walked in here to now, I’m way more confident about going into training camp.”

Engstler said playing for a cause is one thing she’s come to appreciate while playing in AU Pro Basketball and wishes the WNBA would inherit the same idea.

“I don’t know if this will ever happen, but I think one of the coolest things at AU is that we play for a cause,” said Engstler, who is playing for Virago, a nonprofit organization and wellness community dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of athletes. “If they could implement that into the W, I think we would help a lot of causes because, obviously, the W has been around a lot longer. They probably get a little more money and have more players. Some kind of way we can implement that in, I don’t know exactly how they do it. But I think that’s one of my favorite things about this place … It was one of the reasons I joined this league.”


W.G. Ramirez is a 36-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a correspondent for Athletes Unlimited. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez

Get to Know Engstler

  • Top of Spotify: A Boogie wit da Hoodie and Nicki Minaj
  • Favorite Cheat Meal: Insomnia Cookies
  • Favorite Dallas Spot: Rodeo Bar gave her “comfy vibes”
  • Favorite NCAA Player: South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso
  • Favorite WNBA Player(s): Current Brianna Stewart; retired Sue Bird

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