It was just a few weeks ago that Emily Esposito was full of uncertainty. A redshirt freshman seeing the floor for the first time in her collegiate career, Esposito was struggling to find her way. Having grown up in Gorham, Maine, a town just west of Portland, the two-time high school state champion was concerned that her game may not be translating to the larger stage of Big East basketball. She worried about letting her teammates down, and even wondered if coming to Villanova had been a mistake.
Flash forward to the present day, and Esposito has put her doubts to rest. After racking up back-to-back 13-point performances during a crucial two game road trip just over a week ago, Esposito was named Big East Freshman of the Week by the conference.
“To get the recognition from the league I’m like, ‘All right I think I’m meant to be in this league, and I’m able to play at this level,’” Esposito said. “That was a nice confirmation.”
Esposito’s developing game was helped by her redshirt season a year ago. As is common practice within the program, Esposito’s freshman year was used to allow her to adjust, both on and off the court. While she admits that her competitive nature made sitting on the sidelines for an entire season a rather difficult endeavor, looking back, Esposito now sees just how beneficial the experience was.
“I didn’t know the offense well,” Esposito said. “And just in terms of adjusting to college itself, I think for me it was definitely best to redshirt that first year so I didn’t have that pressure of playing on top of everything else.”
That “everything else” Esposito spoke of is no small circumstance. The 2017 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year described significant differences between the high school and college levels – ones she was not necessarily expecting.
“You come in when you’re on recruiting trips and you see what they want you to see,” Esposito said. “All the glamor and all the gear you get, but they never quite show you the other aspects. The early mornings, the late nights with homework, how much homework you get and how you have to do it on the road.”
Esposito also detailed the business-like nature of college basketball, and admitted that she was not prepared for the level of micromanagement a Division 1 athlete is subjected to.
“You have to wear Nike stuff and only Nike stuff,” she said. “They expect you to be in the gym every day, you have lift however many times a week, you have practice just about every day, you’re traveling. You’re almost using basketball to get your education.”
In spite of these challenges, Esposito’s recent accolades prove that she has been able to navigate the unfamiliar waters with success. Although she herself recognizes that she is not the quickest player, Esposito owns a lethal mid-range game, and has the ability to knock down both pull-up and fade-away jumpers with remarkable consistency. One of the keys for the 5’9” guard has been extending her range to beyond the three-point line, a quest she has begun to conquer this year. Along with her increasing versatility offensively, Esposito credits two of the team’s captains, Adrianna Hahn and Jannah Tucker, with coaching her through the process and helping her mature as a player.
Esposito and Villanova have a 15-7 record, including a 6-5 mark in Big East play. After starting the Big East portion of the schedule at just 2-5, ‘Nova has reeled off four straight victories to climb back into a tie for fourth in the conference standings.
“Going into the rest of the season, I think we are going to be more optimistic than we have been,” Esposito said. “We’re more comfortable with our roles now and where we are in the league.”
Regardless of how the ‘Cats finish this season, Esposito has proven that she is a player worth keeping an eye on as her Villanova career progresses.