Pleasant Home phenom nets spot on elite hoops team

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2016

Pleasant Home’s River Baldwin will just be sophomore this upcoming basketball season, but that hasn’t stopped her from landing a spot on one of the most elite youth travel ball teams in the country.

Tennesse Flight coach Tom Insell recently reached out to Baldwin and offered her a spot in his elite squad.

“River has been playing AAU ball coach that I know and he reached out to me to let me know that River was ready to make the jump to Nike Elite,” Insell said. “I had been watching her for the past two years and I knew she was someone we wanted on our team.”

Nike Elite is filled with the top players in the country, and Insell said it’s rare for such a young player to get this type of opportunity.

“It’s a rarity for someone her age to get this kind of recognition,” Insell said. “Her talent, though, that’s what we see in her. She could very well compete for a spot on the 16U Olympic team next year. She has that kind of talent.”

The Tennessee Flight basketball team is part of the Nike Girls Elite Youth Basketball, which showcases the top high school girls basketball players in the country. Tennessee Flight is one of the top teams in Nike Elite having won three national titles in the eight years the league has been around.

“She will be playing with and against the most talented players in the nation,” Insell said. “We have one of the best travel teams here in the country. It’s a great chance for her to go up against the best of the best. On our team, there are seven or eight that will go pro, and River has a the chance to be one of those girls.”

The Nike Elite League consist of several stops during the summer where they play a slate of five games over a three-day period. The teams are split into five divisions across the United States, and the top two teams from each division qualify for the Nike Elite Nationals in Augusta, Ga.

“We’ve had a pretty good season this year,” Insell said. “Last weekend, we qualified for the Nike Elite Nationals, so by the end of the month we could have our fourth national championship.”

Insell said that even though Baldwin will be the youngest member of the team, that she would still see plenty of playing time.

“We run two or three deep in pretty much every position,” Insell said. “River does an outstanding job filling her role. She is going to have the chance to go up against the best juniors and senior basketball players in the country.”

It will be different than what she has experienced in the past, Insell said.

“It could take some getting use to,” Insell said. “Our talent level is that of a good college, and we run the program like it’s college. The girls all stay, eat and travel together everywhere we go.”

Even though he has coached three national championship teams, Insell said that this is probably the most talented team he has ever coached.

“This team I’ve got now is probably the best team we have ever had,” Insell said. “That’s saying something when talking about three national championship teams. River has a great opportunity to really learn what it’s like to be on college team. She fills her role very well, and one day in the very near future she will be the leader of this team.”

Tennessee Flight has one more league stop left before the Nike Elite Nationals.

“River is going to be a very special player,” Insell said. “We are just thrilled that she chose us. There were teams in Georgia that she could have played for. We are very happy to have her as part of our team.”

As a freshman last year, Baldwin gained the attention of several of the top women’s basketball teams in the country.

Florida State head women’s basketball coach even made a trip to Pleasant Home to watch Baldwin play in person.