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Camilla and Kira Emsbo, Rockies Basketball

Identical twins are striving for more of the same on Colorado basketball courts

By Jonathan Hawthorne, special to espnW, 09/29/17, 3:30PM MDT


Camilla Emsbo, left, and Kira Emsbo are hoping to make a splash as seniors by winning a Colorado state title.

Camilla Emsbo picked orchestra; Kira Emsbo chose band. The differences between the 6-foot-4 identical twin sisters are subtle, which is why the teachers at Lakewood High School (Colorado) who have had both of them in class find the first week of school especially challenging.

On the basketball court, opponents face a similar conundrum.

Kira plays with more fake and Camilla utilizes more power, but the forwards team up to make the Tigers a formidable threat in the Denver area. Coach Chris Poisson, for one, wouldn't mind seeing double the production this season.

"I want it to be extremely hard to distinguish the two," Poisson said. "I want them both to be stronger and dominating to where you can take one away, but you can't do two."

The twins, for now, are laser-focused on returning to the state title game for the second consecutive season, but it's possible the Emsbo twins could be teammates next year, too.

Kira jumped ahead of her sister and pledged to Princeton in June. Camilla, the No. 34 player in the espnW 2018 HoopGurlz class, is still mulling her options after a breakout season in which she averaged 18.9 points and 8.7 rebounds. After a round of visits, she's narrowed her list to Yale, Northwestern, Colorado ... and Princeton.

Everyone agrees it's ironic that Camilla could land at Princeton. After all, the twins decided many months ago that college would be a good opportunity to separate.

"They're doing [the recruiting process] in very different ways," Poisson said. "It's, like, the most individual thing I've seen them do."

Outgrowing soccer

Before they starred on the hardwood at Lakewood, Camilla and Kira fell in love with soccer. Until they outgrew it. Literally.

hey were taller than many of the team's dads, who doubled as coaches. Basketball had always been an experimentation sport -- mostly during the Colorado winters -- but they didn't go all-in until sixth grade.

As with most things, Camilla and Kira took the plunge together.

"It kind of took us off guard," their mom, Susan, said of the switch. "But it's been a really positive thing for girls that are so tall to be athletic and in a sport that celebrates that height."

While they had a clear elevation advantage, basketball's technical side took more time to marinate. During a practice in eighth grade, a coach instructed Camilla to set a pick. She didn't -- but not for a lack of effort.

"I said, 'I'm so sorry, I just have no idea what a pick is,'" Camilla explained. "He looked at me like, 'huh?'"

But they learned from each other, as they often do in the classroom, and joined the Boulder Rockies AAU team their sophomore year on a recommendation from former teammate Mackenzie Forrest.

Forrest, a point guard who was known by the nickname "Lil' Mac," died in a March 2016 car accident shortly before she would have graduated. Camilla said Forrest was a "momma duck" to the twins and helped make them the players they are today.

"Watching her passion inspired me and Kira to work harder," Camilla said. "We have so much more to play for now."

Scientific futures

The upcoming season is especially important for Kira, who missed most of last year with an elbow injury. With Kira out, Camilla took on a more attack-first approach.

Though she wasn't 100 percent, Kira returned during the state championship run. Lakewood fell to Grandview and UCLA-bound Michaela Onyenwere in the 5A title game.

"I'm hoping to step into a bigger role and hopefully allow my team to get to the next level," Kira said. "And get that state championship that we narrowly missed last year."

Kira picked Princeton, a school that coincidentally already mirrors her high school colors and mascot, in part because of the Tigers' coaching staff. A top-notch Ivy League education was enticing, too.

"I'd really like to make a difference in the world," she said. "Princeton is a great steppingstone to do that."

Kira and Camilla were inspired by their dad, Poul, to hunt out schools with quality science majors -- specialization to be determined. Poul is a geologist for the United States Geological Survey, or as Camilla says, "a rock doctor."

Both also fill up their calendar with extracurricular activities. With other classmates, they volunteer in an adaptive aquatics program, hopping in the pool on weekends with disabled kids. It's proved to be therapeutic for everyone involved.

Susan said she couldn't have possibly forecast college offers when her daughters shifted from soccer to basketball. Their ability to drive to the rim, snag loose rebounds and advance the ball when needed has impressed recruiters.

"They go hard against each other," Susan said. "They never go easy. But it's a positive, kindhearted competitiveness. Lucky for us all that they've both had success."

Camilla seconds that.

"It's definitely been really great for us," Camilla said. "To have somebody to go after in practice, but also pat you on the back when you're having a bad day to say, 'You're good.'

"That's just something that a lot of people don't get. I'm so grateful that I have that."

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