ELYRIA — When West Liberty University first showed interest in Kody Bender, the Elyria High senior basketball standout wondered if the NCAA Division II power was looking for a point guard or a shooting guard.
“They said they don’t really play positions,” Bender said. “All their players can dribble and shoot. They just get the ball and run.”
Bender’s reply? “Where do I sign?”
Well, maybe it didn’t happen quite that fast. But it didn’t take Bender long to know he wanted to be a Hilltopper, so when they made him an offer Thursday night, he didn’t hesitate to give them his oral commitment.
“They’re definitely the school I was interested in,” said Bender, a Division I honorable mention All-Oho selection last year who attracted interest from an assortment of Division II and III schools. “Even if I had got some offers from other schools, I would have wanted to go there.”
The 6-foot Bender averaged around 15 points, more than three assists and almost two steals a game for the Pioneers, who went 14-10 and made it to the regional semifinals a year ago. He also shot 85 percent from the free throw line and made better than 30 percent of his 3-pointers.
“I told the (West Liberty) coaches, ‘You guys are getting a steal,’” Elyria coach Brett Larrick said. “Some people are missing out around here.”
West Liberty, which is located some three hours away in West Liberty, W. Va., went 32-3 last season and made it to the Elite Eight for the second straight year. Coach Jim Crutchfield has been named the West Virginia Sportswriters Association’s College Coach of the Year two years in a row (he shared the most recent one), after leading the Hilltoppers to three West Virginia Conference titles and back-to-back 30-win seasons.
Bender loves the winning. He also loves the 102 points and more than 10 3-pointers the Hilltoppers average.
“Their style of play is just great,” he said. “So unselfish. They don’t have any stars. They just want to win.”
Bender, who is undecided on a major, said he really liked everything about the school when he visited a couple of weeks ago.
“The coaches made me feel at home,” he said. “And the school is nice.”
Bender said there’s a possibility he’ll be redshirted his freshman season, which is not an unusual practice for the Hilltoppers, though nothing is certain.
“I think it’s a real good fit,” Larrick said. “They’re very uptempo, they like to play up and down and shoot the 3.”
Contact Kevin Aprile at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.