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Basketball Trailblazer: Riley Thames

Athlete of the Month: Riley Thames

This article is the fourth interview from our Athlete of the Month (AOTM) series in partnership with TrueSport. To nominate an athlete or learn more, check out our AOTM headquarters.

When 7-year-old Riley Thames picked up a basketball and started dribbling around her kitchen, her dad, Randy Thames, decided to pick up his phone. What began as a way to document the 2nd grader’s progress in her sport has become a source of inspiration for young athletes to practice hard work and dedication.

In her Instagram videos, Riley practices drills, shows off her skills, and dribbles to the beat of a song. The father-daughter duo also showcases her game highlights, in which Riley is often taking on athletes almost twice her size. Her consistency, perseverance, and love of basketball are the messages that shine through in all of the videos.  This is what makes her a perfect choice for SportsEngine and TrueSport’s Athlete of the Month.

When asked about how she overcomes challenges on and off the court, Riley’s answer is almost always “work hard.” It’s a simple motto, but it’s one that she applies to everything in her life, basketball and beyond. She’s a dedicated student who loves math and art, and she hopes to take all of her talents to Stanford one day.


Riley sat down with TrueSport Ambassador Amara Mbionwu, a professional netball athlete and Team USA Netball captain whose mission is to spread love of sport to as many kids, teens, and other youth athletes as possible. The two athletes bonded over the value of practice, the importance of progress, and their love of Riley’s favorite book series, Junie B. Jones. 

SportsEngine and TrueSport caught up with Amara, Riley, and Randy as the athletes swapped words of advice for kids looking to start a sport and Randy shared his advice for parents looking to be involved in their kids’ sports journeys. All three agreed: the most important part of playing any sport? Having fun. 

Read on to hear more from Riley, Randy, and Amara’s conversation.

How did you start playing basketball?

Riley Thames: I just started dribbling in the kitchen and passing the ball. And my dad was a coach at high school. That’s where I got to see a lot of [basketball] games. 

Amara: Awesome! So were you able to go to the practices and train with a few of the girls there?

Riley: Yes.

Amara: Who on the team did you look up to the most? 

Riley: Sam, because she was really good and she worked hard. 

What type of challenges do you have playing basketball that you could overcome?

Riley: Dribbling.

Amara: Dribbling really? So how did you overcome that challenge?

Riley: Playing with the bigger kids. 

Amara: I love it. So what did they teach you to help you overcome that challenge? Any tips and tricks that they gave you?

Riley: Just to work hard and practice. 

Amara: I love it. And my motto is, practice doesn't make perfect. But practice is a great form of progress, right? So you don't have to be perfect at anything. But as long as you keep on doing it over and over again. You’ll be fine. 


A post shared by Amara (@amarav.m)


What advice would you want to give to other kids who want to play basketball?

Riley: Work hard. It doesn’t just take a few days to be great. You have to put in the time and the work and the dedication.

Amara: Exactly. Rome was not built in a day, right? It takes practice. It takes sacrifice. It takes dedication. It takes hard work. And it takes willpower, because I know for me in college, it took my teammates, my family my support system to help me because there were times where I wanted to give up but I love the game so much and I wanted to be there for my teammates that I made sure that I did everything in my power to push through. 

What is your biggest basketball goal?

Amara: What is your biggest basketball goal? Do you see yourself playing in college? Overseas or on the USA team?

Riley: I want to play at Stanford.

Amara: Oh you have really big plans! Well, good luck, and more importantly remember that to really succeed in anything you do it’s about having fun. Honestly, if you don’t have fun, it’s harder to do the things you love if you’re not enjoying it. So just please have fun! If maybe down the road basketball isn’t your sport, it’s okay. No one is going to judge you. Just have fun in whatever you do. 

Words of advice from dad 

When did you decide to start filming Riley and documenting her journey on social media?

Randy Thames: She started dribbling the ball, and it was just like, wow, let's see this, watch the process. And it just started there. It was really just for us to see her progress. And then she started progressing so fast.

How have you seen Riley develop as a young athlete since she started playing?

Randy: Beyond basketball, I mean, she's just developed as a leader. She's talented, like she stated, but she wants to help her other teammates. She's always encouraging people, and she's becoming more vocal around her team. So that's a really good thing that she can carry outside of the sport.

What advice do you have for other parents who are looking to get their kids involved in sports?

Randy: I think just support your child. Not everyone is a coach in a particular sport, but there are so many resources. You have to utilize the internet, utilize social media, utilize YouTube, and get information from experts and really observe and support your kid. The biggest thing is to support and help in any way possible.

Speed Round with Riley

  • Favorite sport to play (other than basketball)? Soccer
  • Sports hero? Candace Parker or my dad
  • Favorite sport to watch? Gymnastics. My cousin is a gymnast at Yale.
  • Go-to pre-game snack? Chipotle.
  • Favorite post-game treat? Also Chipotle!
  • Favorite pump-up music? Canon 
  • Who is your biggest supporter? My mom and my dad. 
  • Describe yourself in one word. Talented


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