GORHAM — Emily Esposito admits being a basketball recruit can be stressful.

“Sometimes I think like, geez, I wish it was back to fifth-grade basketball where you really didn’t have worry about any of this stuff,” said Esposito, a 5-foot-10 junior guard at Gorham High.

Then she remembers advice from Don Briggs and Brian Clement, the coaches on her club team, the Maine Firecrackers.

“I’ll always be like, ‘C’mon Coach, this is almost becoming like a job for me,’ and they’ll say, ‘Just remember. You’ll never be this wanted again the rest of your life.”

People have been noting Esposito’s skill, athletic ability and competitiveness since before she reached high school. Once she took the court for Gorham, she quickly proved she could play with eye-opening flair, whipping behind the back passes on the break and making fade-away jumpers over players 3 inches taller and 3 years older.

“She’s by a wide margin the most heavily recruited kid in the state right now,” said Briggs, whose club team has included several players now on college teams. “She has nine (NCAA Division I scholarship) offers and she’s had 54, 56 Division I schools that have contacted me, reached out to me, about her.”

In her two seasons at Gorham, Esposito has averaged over 17 points and close to nine rebounds per game. A two-time Telegram All-State selection, she has increased her exposure playing in AAU tournaments for the Firecrackers.

The college recruiting process can seem overwhelming to high school athletes. But Esposito has taken a methodical approach, despite getting her first scholarship offer (from the University of Maine) as a freshman, said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume.

“There have been a lot of eyes on her since she was 14. I think she’s handled it great,” Berthiaume said. “Some days are easier than others. It’s natural for anyone in her position to feel some stress.”

NCAA coaching staffs are prohibited from commenting on recruits until the athletes sign a national letter of intent, which for basketball players does not take place until November of their senior year. College coaches cannot contact recruits directly until Sept. 1 of their junior year.

“I had heard that day is hectic, but I did not believe that my first text would come through at 12:34 in the morning,” Esposito said. “September 1st rolls around and it’s all free game for (college coaches). They can text you, email you, call you whenever they want.”

Esposito said she spent the entire day – which happened to be the first day of school – at her house fielding calls from coaches.

“All day you pick up the phone and they all have the same type of conversation, they want to get to know you and for you to get to know their program and how great it is,” Esposito said. “Each one is probably 15 to 20 minutes, so you have to mentally be there.”

Now Esposito keeps a journal, noting the date, the caller and pertinent points of the discussion. The journal helps her keep track of how one college differs from another. It also is a way to confirm if a coaching staff is consistent.

MAKING A LIST

She takes the process seriously.

“It is your future. I just want to make sure it’s the best fit for me possible,” Esposito said.

She has yet to take an official campus visit, paid for by the schools. Those will come in the spring, after she’s taken either the SAT or the ACT.

She and her mother, Karen Esposito, have – at the family’s expense – visited 14 Division I schools, meeting with coaches, watching practices and spending time on campus.

Some schools have received second looks. Esposito has been to Philadelphia three times to visit Villanova and St. Joseph’s, both of which have offered her scholarships, Briggs said.

“When we get back to the hotel I’ll write down pros and cons and a general overview of each visit,” Esposito said.

Esposito has yet to make a verbal commitment and said she is not in a hurry to make a decision. For her, information is valuable. She knows she’s matured both as a player and a person during the past two seasons.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

Another year will bring further growth – and possibly new opportunities.

Gorham expects to contend for a state title with the addition of Danasia Fennie (a junior transfer from Westbrook) and promising freshman center Mackenzie Holmes. Esposito will be looking to show off her improved shooting.

“We talked about what her weaknesses were and the biggest was that she was not a confident outside shooter,” Briggs said. “So what does she do? She goes to the gym and shoots a thousand 3s, and then a thousand more 3s, and now the coaches I talk to are saying, ‘Holy cow, her outside game is completely different.'”

She’s been working out in the gym almost daily with her 24-year-old brother, Chris, and looks noticeably stronger across her shoulders.

It was brothers Chris, Matt (a freshman at Hofstra) and dad, Tony, who got her started with basketball, playing in the driveway.

“I was always going up against them. It was always a competition,” Emily Esposito said.

If they weren’t around, then a ball would be.

“She was always playing. She always had a ball in her hand,” said Gorham junior guard Kaylea Lundin, a fine player and one of Esposito’s best friends. The two have played on basketball teams together since fifth grade.

Was Esposito good as a fifth-grader?

“Yes. Very good,” Lundin said. “She just stood out. She was just very fundamentally sound.”

“She was always somebody working to get better and you could see the competitive part, too,” Berthiaume recalls. “You get those two things, that’s a good part of the picture.”

What Esposito hopes to accomplish with basketball is clear.

“Go to a high Division I program, learn as much as I can, play professionally and then be a coach,” Esposito said.