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Kentucky toddler, a true ‘Diaper Dandy,’ is a viral video sensation

January 13, 2019
Elijah Bender, 2-year-old son of Brad and Kelsey Bender, of Russell, Ky., is about to toss a toy basketball into the hoop. A video of Elijah making no-look shots has been viewed by several million people online and on the "Today" show.

RUSSELL, Ky. — “Diaper Dandy,” Dick Vitale’s famous phrase for college basketball freshman phenoms, is an accurate description of Russell’s incredible Elijah Bender.

Bender had his second birthday on Dec. 13, and that’s the first day his parents videotaped him making unbelievable nolook shots at a toy basketball hoop that have garnered him fans nationwide. Views of Bender’s YouTube video on various sites keep growing, and being seen by several million viewers on NBC’s “Today” show added to the tot’s fame.

“We didn’t realize he was on the Sunday ‘Today’ show until after that afternoon when other people told us,” Bender’s mom, Kelsey Bender, said. Fortunately her best friend’s mother recorded it.

People can watch the toddler making his amazing shots in Facebook videos posted by his mother.

“Lebron (James) was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 17 years old. This next kid might get there sooner,” said “Today” host Willie Geist, before showing a video of Elijah making blind shots.

“Today ” meteorolog ist Dylan Dreyer marveled at what it would be like to have a hook shot like Bender’s.

With his talent, college coaches might want the baby prodigy to sign a letter of intent — if he were old enough to write. Geist suggested University of Kentucky coach John Calipari might want the youngster.

It might not be that easy. Marshall University coach Dan D’Antoni and West Virginia University coach Bob Huggins might have a leg up. Bender’s father, Brad, was born in Charleston and likes WVU, Kelsey Bender said. She said her husband put his son in a WVU football jersey for some of his shooting photos.

“Since I graduated from Marshall, I can’t in good conscience let those be in a Huntington paper,” she said while chuckling.

Football might also be in young Bender’s blood. His dad played football for Russell High School, and Kelsey Bender’s brother, Jake Gregg, played football for the Ashland Tomcats. Her father, Scott Gregg, is an assistant football coach for the Tomcats. Bender’s grandfather plays football with him all the time, so he has a really good arm, Kelsey Bender said.

Kelsey Bender posted an internet video that went viral of her son making blind shots into a toy basketball hoop.

“My grandparents had a basketball hoop that they gave us a couple of months ago,” she said. “He would watch games on TV and shoot the whole time, so it didn’t take long for him to be pretty good at basketball.”

Watching football and basketball on TV is something Bender loves and he copies what he sees. One day his parents thought he injured his eye — until they looked at the TV and saw a player holding his eye. He even tries to tackle or make shots in slow motion when TV shows a replay, Kelsey Bender said.

When it’s time for bed he’ll say, “Get your hands ready,” because he wants to keep passing, his mother said.

Bender’s strong drive might be inherited. His grandmother, Marshall graduate, author and Paramount Arts Center marketing director Jenny Holmes, put up a brave five-year public battle with cancer before her death in 2016. She was known in the Tri-State for her upbeat attitude called “Live Like Jenny.”

National media outlets keep contacting the Benders.

“This is already bigger than we ever imagined,” Kelsey Bender said. “We’ve been contacted by PopSugar, Radio.com and an NBCUniversal reporter. He was on Good Morning America Digital. We joke about him being famous, but he has been recognized out in public.

“It’s so weird, but it will be really cool when he is big enough to actually understand all of this and we can go back and show him that he went viral and made national news when he was barely 2.”

The Benders have another son, 7-month-old Theo, who just looks at his brother and laughs.

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