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Inside Strength

NC State center River Baldwin smiles as teammates congratulate her
NC State center River Baldwin's teammates congratulate her for a career-best game against No. 3 Colorado.

It’s not a stretch to say that 6-foot-5 center and CALS graduate student River Baldwin is making the most of her opportunities this season, both on and off the court.

In her final year of basketball eligibility, needing only an internship to complete an online master’s degree in youth, family and community sciences, Baldwin senses an internal shot clock counting down. 

“It really just hit me that this is my last year, the last chance I have to prove myself if I want to go to the league (WNBA) or play overseas, and I mean I just really wanted to go out with a bang,” she says. “I don’t have anything to lose.”

Baldwin has gained national attention as the Wolfpack started the season 10-0, defeating No. 2 Connecticut in the second game of the season and No. 3 Colorado in the Paradise Jam Tournament over Thanksgiving in the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

With a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds against Colorado, Baldwin was named island division tournament MVP and one of five Ann Meyers-Drysdale National Players of the Week by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. 

“Going into the game, I had a different mindset, just a defensive mindset. We knew that they had a dominant post player, so honestly, when I focus on other aspects of the game, points tend to come more when I’m not stressed about, ‘Oh, I have to score.’ If I’m focused on defense or rebounding, that’s usually when I play better and I score more.”

Perfect Start

River Baldwin shooting over a defender

Heading into conference play in mid-December, the undefeated Wolfpack were No. 3 in the AP poll. In just three weeks, unranked NC State vaulted into the top 5 of the AP poll.

“Overall, I think our team chemistry is better than any team I’ve ever played on before. We really play for each other,” Baldwin says. “The unselfishness is so prominent, and that’s what you have to be to come together and win games like we’re winning.” 

With repeated sellouts, it was tough to get a ticket for home games in Reynolds Coliseum.

Before transferring from Florida State in the summer of 2022, Baldwin found Reynolds to be “by far the worst” place to play, going 0-4 there with the Seminoles. 

“(Now) I love Reynolds. It’s a whole different atmosphere. Our fans are awesome.”

Baldwin walks on court making a Wolfpack sign with her hands
River Baldwin soaks up the supportive atmosphere in Reynolds Coliseum.

Having her 19-year-old brother attend his first game in Reynolds was a personal highlight for Baldwin. Her cheering section includes her parents, who watched her record-setting game in the Virgin Islands. They make the 10-hour drive from Alabama as often as possible to see her play, along with her maternal grandparents. 

Transferring to NC State has also changed her mindset as a student-athlete. 

“I have experienced a new level of confidence from my coaches than I ever have,” Baldwin says, adding that head coach Wes Moore, “knows that I can do so much more, and he sees the potential in me.”

Watch highlights of RIver Baldwin

Rural Roots

Growing up in Andalusia, Alabama, Baldwin took part in 4-H as an elementary student and FFA in high school, surrounded by fields of cotton and corn. 

“My grandfather actually owned the farm a couple of streets down from my high school,” she says.

As a first-grader, Baldwin was taller than the teacher. She reached a height of 6 feet in sixth grade. 

“When I found basketball and volleyball — started playing sports — I could utilize the height and found an advantage, but I think sports brought confidence in that as well,” she says. “I’ve been able to say since I was in middle school that I really liked being tall.”

Over the years, Baldwin has found herself naturally drawn to friends with disabilities, starting in elementary school where a close friend used a wheelchair. At the state volleyball tournament, she remembers exchanging hugs with a boy with Down syndrome. He recognized her again the next year she played and approached her again.

“It’s just little things like that in life that touched my heart,” she says. She decided to pursue that interest in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in family and child sciences from Florida State. She enrolled in NC State’s online master’s program as part of her long-term career plans. The Master of Youth, Family, and Community Sciences prepares graduate students for careers in the fields of parenting and family life education with a variety of organizations from social services to community agencies to schools.

“Do I know what I’m going to do specifically? No. But just being in the lives of people with disabilities, specifically children, brings me so much joy.” 

Baldwin works at KidStrong, which offers science-based training programs to help children build confidence and character. She’s pondering possibilities for her academic internship.

For now, with the last paper of the semester turned in and the last presentation complete, Baldwin is focused on basketball as the team begins ACC conference play.