Some believe we speak our futures into being. Others are convinced that our destinies are written in the stars. But WNBA rising star Essence Carson had a premonition of her own path as a kid while watching a full court press in Madison Square Garden. “When I was younger, my mom took me to a professional basketball game at MSG,” recalls the Paterson, New Jersey native. “Somehow, we found our way down to the courtside seats. I just remember being in awe of everything: the size of the arena, the game, the crowd. In that instant, I turned to my mom, knocked on the hardwood floor and said, ‘I’m going to make it back here one day.’”
It’s safe to say that her premonition has since come true. With less than three years of professional basketball to her credit, this 24-year-old has managed to blaze a trail of amazing career accomplishments that makes her childhood premonition seem less like an irony and more like a destiny in fulfillment. Standing at 6’0”, the statuesque forward/ guard has been wowing sportscasters and fans across the globe with her impressive skills for seven years and counting.
“I didn’t start playing basketball for an organized team until the 6th grade.” Unbeknownst to her at the time, she would spend the rest of her days striking a skillful balance between her affinity for music and basketball. “Ever since I was young, those two always went hand in hand.
During her four-year tenure with the Eastside Lady Ghosts, Essence scored 1,808 points while leading the team to three county titles and a place at the coveted New Jersey State High School Tournament Of Champions finals. She was also a Parade All-American as well as a McDonald’s All-American. A quintessentially well-rounded athlete, Essence was also an all-state volleyball player and a state champion track star, winning the 400-meter title.
Upon being recruited to play for Rutgers University’s Scarlet Knights, Essence quickly became one of the team’s most valuable assets. That same year, she was awarded a gold medal at the 2004 U.S. Women’s Junior World Championship. Throughout her stint with the Scarlet Knights, Essence competed in four NCAA tournaments, helped her team reach the Elite Eight twice, and secured herself slots on both the All-Big East first and second teams. In addition to her 2004 victory, she was also a gold medalist at the 2005 FIBA Under-19 World Championship and a gold medalist at the 2006 USA FIBA America’s Under-20 Championship. Yet while her first two collegiate years afforded her a grand stage on which to showcase her stellar athletic talent, there was an ominous challenge on the horizon of her junior year.
“That was the year of the Don Imus controversy,” she recalls. Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host Don Imus leveled derogatory remarks at the Scarlet Knights’ during their 2007 NCAA championship game against Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers. The incident caused a maelstrom of national press coverage and incited public contention. As team captain, Essence valiantly rose to the occasion and became the media spokesperson for the team. “I had to go on national television and deliver a statement for the team during a news conference. I did interviews on Oprah, Good Morning America, Larry King, and all the talk shows you can think of.”
Despite the controversy, Essence was able to end the season averaging 12.3 ppg and 6.3 rpg. During her senior year, she earned the distinction of being the second female player in the history of the Big East conference to be named Defensive Player of the Year for three consecutive seasons. She left Rutgers ranking in 17th on their all-time scoring chart and 12th on the all-time rebounding list. Essence was drafted by New York Liberty first round, 7th overall pick in 2008. She swiftly started 30 of 34 games during her first year with the Liberty, averaging 16.8 mpg and 5.7 ppg in the play-offs alone and made her first visit to the Eastern Conference Championship. The following year she upped the ante, averaging 10.0 ppg and 25.3 mpg for the season while breaking the record for most games started in the history of the team. In the 2010 season, Essence came back strong during the play-offs (13.6 ppg, 25.0 mpg) and went to the Eastern Conference Championship once again.
During her off seasons, Essence has played with international teams such as Latvia’s TTT/Riga (17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg), Venice, Italy’s Umana Reyer (11 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg), and France’s Bourges Basket (13.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 apg), where each team has ranked in at either #1 or #2 in their respective countries. At present, Essence is playing for Gyor, Hungary’s Seat Lami Ved, is currently #2 top scorer in the country.
With such brimming promise in the future of her young athletic career and musical endeavors, Essence refuses to subscribe to the age-old adage “the sky is the limit.”
At the same, she’s mindful that her spectacular trajectory is the product of a die-hard work ethic spiked with dedication and a dash of balance. “I just learned to nurture my love for music and basketball one day at a time,” she states simply. “I always strived to be the best athlete and the best musician that I could be at the time. It seems like that formula works for me, because it proved successful.” Even with all her successes and accolades firmly in hand, she has never forgotten her roots. After all, she realizes that they are responsible for the woman she has become. “I grew up surrounded by people that made me believe that I had everything in the world, even though there was a fair amount of struggle. I’m still thankful for that. It motivates me. My city still motivates me.”
"When you're a kid, you always want to be a lawyer or astronaut," Carson says. "But I wanted to be Stevie Wonder in the 5th grade." Essence became enamored with the piano at an early age and received instruction on the instrument from her grandmother shortly after. However, her adoration for basketball began to bloom the following year. "I didn't start playing basketball for an organized team until the 6th grade." Unbeknownst to her at the time, she would spend the rest of her days striking a skillful balance between her affinity for music and basketball. "Ever since I was young, those two always went hand in hand."
By her early teens, Essence made the decision to pursue music as her main interest. She was accepted to the Rosa L. Parks School of the Fine and Performing Arts where she majored in piano and minored in instrumental. Though she felt at home amongst her artistically inclined classmates, there was one fundamental problem: "My performing arts high school didn't have any athletic programs." Her remarkable talent enabled her to join the girls' basketball team at nearby Eastside High School (immortalized in film by the 1989 motion picture Lean On Me).
Though Essence has spent countless hours sharpening her prowess on the court over the years, she never lost sight of her first love: music. In addition to being a multi-instrumentalist (piano, drums, bass, guitar, and saxophone), she is a burgeoning music producer proficient in several professional digital audio and recording applications. "I've always been involved in music production," she admits. "I started in high school, but didn't get serious about that until college. My college years consisted of basketball practice for several hours a day, going to class, and working on my music on my setup in my dorm room. Once I graduated from college and began my professional career as an athlete, it allowed more time for me to focus on production."
At the moment, Essence is working on music production for various acts such as Australian pop artist Josh Jakq and has joined ranks with Futuristic Lingo, the production team of up and coming Brooklyn-via-Palm Beach hip-hop artist Young Future. She is also cultivating material for her own prospective debut release as a hip-ho artist under the name Pr3pE (pronounced "Preppy"). It's apparent that Essence's gifts are simply too dynamic to be contained in any singular categorical box. "This way the whole world can see the full range of my talent."
With such brimming promise in the future of her young athletic career and musical endeavors, Essence refuses to subscribe to the age-old adage "the sky is the limit."
At the same, she's mindful that her spectacular trajectory is the product of a die-hard work ethic spiked with dedication and a dash of balance. "I just learned to nurture my love for music and basketball one day at a time," she states simply. "I always strived to be the best athlete and the best musician that I could be at the time. It seems like that formula works for me, because it proved successful." Even with all her successes and accolades firmly in hand, she has never forgotten her roots. After all, she realizes that they are responsible for the woman she has become. "I grew up surrounded by people that made me believe that I had everything in the world, even though there was a fair amount of struggle. I'm still thankful for that. It motivates me. My city still motivates me."