Nothing but net

St. Mary High School basketball player Tanner Svenson (right) shoots hopes with his coach Zach Strong (left) in the St. Mary gym on Friday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Caleb Hammond wanted to do something special with his first paycheque.

As an active basketball player, and big fan, Hammond quickly decided on a new pair of basketball shoes. After an extensive search, he found what he was looking for: a $200 pair of Kyrie 4 basketball shoes.

However, Hammond never intended to use those shoes himself. Instead, the Grade 10 St. Mary High School student gave them to Tanner Svenson, a fellow classmate with autism who had just started playing basketball this year.

“It’s my first paycheque, so I might as well start it off good,” Hammond chuckled. “I was always thinking I was going to buy myself shoes … but then I saw Tanner and I was like, that’s who deserves shoes, not me.”

Hammond got the idea after watching Svenson’s Junior A basketball team battle back from a 20-point deficit one evening. He said Svenson showed an incredible amount of hustle and drive, even when they were losing, and that attitude inspired him.

“He was just always giving 100 per cent,” Hammond explained. “That’s the mentality that I want to get. Always go 100 per cent, no matter what.”

He later went online and purchased a pair of shoes inspired by Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, who Hammond said is fast and always hustles like Svenson. There were a few nervous moments when Hammond thought his paycheque wouldn’t arrive on time and he’d have to ask his parents to help, but fortunately that never happened.

When the gift did arrive, it came as a big surprise for Svenson, and a shock to his family.

“I was about to cry, but I held back the tears,” Tanner said. “It was a good act of kindness.”

“I was like,’ okay, why did he buy (Tanner) shoes? Who would do that?’” chuckled Taryn Svenson, Tanner’s mom. “It’s not very common, so that was my initial reaction. Then my heart got a little bigger as Tanner told me more of the story.”

Since this was Tanner’s first season playing organized basketball, Taryn said they didn’t buy him expensive shoes because they weren’t sure how long he would play. Team sports have not been easy for him, she explained, but Tanner fell in love with the game shortly after the season started. Now, he’s a regular fixture on the St. Mary court, and loving every minute of it.

“They’ve just taken Tanner in and it feels like his second home,” Taryn explained.

“I just wanted to try a new sport and all,” Tanner explained. “I just tried out for high school (basketball) because there’s more people than elementary.”

Taryn said it’s been a whirlwind last few days since she posted a note about the gift on her Facebook page. As someone who manages social media accounts for a living, she’s often on Facebook or Twitter, and said incidents like Thursday’s school shooting in Florida are disheartening. She made the story about Caleb’s gift public to show that positive things were happening in the community, and hopefully provide a ray of light in the darkness.

“There’s a lot of negativity and stuff that makes us sad,” she explained. “I just thought, laying in bed at night, ‘I’m going to share this story with my friends of something really awesome and powerful.’ I just think we should have more of it, and recognize young men like Tanner and like Caleb.”

As for Hammond, he’s just happy to see a deserving player get a nice pair of shoes. As a fan himself, he sees too many million dollar professional players “complaining and almost crying in the games.” It was important to see someone like Tanner get rewarded for his hard work and good attitude.

“He definitely deserves the shoes more than any basketball player,” Hammond said. “They should be giving him their shoes … because he always gives 100 per cent.”

@kerr_jas •