His Greatest Assists Are Off Court

A day like Saturday seemed almost surreal to Tanner Smith. He was back home in Atlanta, playing in the building that was a favorite childhood haunt, against a Georgia Tech team that he once cheered for so feverishly.

“I love [coming back]. It brings back all those memories of going to Georgia Tech games with my dad,” he said last week in anticipation.

His father, Craig Smith, can’t count the times they went to games at Alexander Memorial. Nor can he ever measure the value of spending time with his only child in a place that was raucous and rollicking and so essentially frivolous. A place that wasn’t a hospital.

Craig does, though, remember the refrain between the two whenever they were in their seats.

“Dad, you think I’ll ever play here?”

“I don’t know, son. Maybe, if you work hard enough.”

Saturday, the Clemson junior guard from Alpharetta made his ACC swing through Georgia Tech, bringing with him 8.5 points a game, a middle-of-the-pack team (4-4 in the conference) and, in the audience, several old friends from his playing days at Wesleyan.

The mission Saturday was purely for sport. Not exactly like one last summer, on another visit home.

A day like that one last August was as real as it gets.

For the past eight years, Smith, 20, has assembled bags of small comforts and needed diversions for pre-teen and teenage cancer patients, growing a childhood musing into an eponymous charity called Tanner’s Totes. Mostly, it is a faceless transaction, the bags of goodies distributed to hospitals around the country where nurses hand them out as needed. Just last week there was a shipment to a hospital in Indiana.

Last summer, though, Smith was off season and able to pass out a few of his totes at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.

In return, he received reinforcement for why he does this off-the-court work and why, he said, “this is definitely something I’ll be doing the rest of my life.”

A family mission

Juliet Veal, who oversees the therapeutic activity center at Scottish Rite called The Zone, witnessed that delivery and many others by Tanner’s Totes. She always