NEW CASTLE —
Jesus once told a couple of guys with nets that he would make them fishers of men.
Eight-year-old Camdyn Cole has a similar evangelistic goal in mind. Her net, though, is a little different.
Camdyn is a budding basketball prodigy whose dribbling skills are featured in an online video that’s been a slam dunk over the past few days. Posted on the YouTube channel of New Castle’s Steve McGranahan — a.k.a., the World’s Strongest Redneck, who uses his feats of strength to inspire and challenge audiences — the video had received more than 300,000 hits as of yesterday afternoon. It also was shown yesterday morning as the “Play of the Day” of ABC-TV’s Good Morning America.
Google “8-year-old girl dribbler,” and you’ll find Camdyn and her expert ball-handling referenced in such places as the Bleacher Report (“She has the dribbling skills of Trey Burke and slicker handles than a French wardrobe”), the Washington Times and FOXSports.com.
Each lavishes praise on her skills, and the Neshannock third-grader-to-be concedes that she wants not only to play the game but to master it, even setting her sights on the WNBA. However, she doesn’t intend to allow the spotlight to remain solely on her.
“Whenever we dribble or do layups, we pray before or after,” said Camdyn. “We pray that he would use my gift to serve God.
“Whenever you’re good at basketball or you’re an athlete, sometimes people pay attention to you. And then you can talk about God and they’ll listen to you.”
LEARNING THE ROPES
Camdyn, who names Tim Tebow as a role model, isn’t the only one in her family embracing life experience as an opportunity to share faith.
Her mother, Molly, has written a book about her battle with Stage 3 colon cancer while pregnant with Camdyn (she’s now 7 1/2 years cancer free), while her father Craig, a former youth pastor, has started an in-home church he believes will be the first in a local network of such congregations.
Still, while Camdyn may have inherited her faith from her parents, her basketball skills are strictly first generation. Mom never played the game, and Dad gave it up in junior high.
“I had this little ball,” Camdyn recalls of her preschool years. “It’s not really a basketball, and there was a laundry basket, and I started putting the ball in the laundry basket, and I was like, ‘I got 100!’ ”
That excitement progressed to the point where she was dribbling by age three, and doing two balls at once by kindergarten. With the help of her father, she started out practicing 15 minutes a day, a session that now has grown to at least 30 minutes. Father and daughter also head up to the Y Zone at least one day a week to work on both left-hand and right-hand layups.
“We do them like crazy,” Craig Cole said. “She’s done like a million layups this year. At the end of each month we do a test. We shoot 50 from the right, 50 from the left and we’ll see what her percentage is.”
There are also theme days and weeks, such as Tough Stuff Day or Two Ball Week — and then there’s Tough Tuesday.
“Except it’s not always Tuesday,” Camdyn said of a day that whenever it should happen to occur includes sit-ups, abs exercises and a one-minute session to do 25 steps up and steps down with a chair.
Of course, there’s also the occasional video.
The first, Craig Cole said, was taken by McGranahan when the local strongman used his phone to record Camdyn after he spotted her dribbling at a picnic. It drew about 16,000 hits on his YouTube channel, “and it wasn’t even a real good video,” Cole said.
“So we made a good one when she was seven, and that one was awesome. But we put it on ourselves, and it got like 800 hits. So Steve said something about making a new one, and we did a couple of weeks ago and gave it to him, and it went nuts.”
The videos, he explained, are a way to use Camdyn’s gift even now as a witness.
“She would start dribbling at the Y Zone, and people would come over and watch,” Cole said. “So we thought we should make a video, put it on YouTube and at the end, say something about Jesus.
“The whole world has ended up hearing her talk about Jesus. Steve said she’s getting hits all over the place, in Muslim countries, some Serbian TV wanted to buy the rights to the video — she’s a little missionary out there.”
Also watching have been representatives of a planned fall show starring Queen Latifah, and they’ve been in touch with the Coles about having Camdyn appear. In addition, MSN has requested a half day at the Cole home in order to film her for the Kid Wonders page on its website.
No matter how the ball bounces for her as her skills continue to develop, there’s one shot that Camdyn plans to take every time — the one that scores for God.
“I want them to know that he loves them,” she said, “and that Jesus died for them and that they should believe in him.”