Teenager Turns Basketball Tricks Into Charity

12:39 PM, Mar 9, 2013   |    comments
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Kaukauna, WI – Look at 6-year-old Braeden Jansen go, bounding about like a pinball as he scoots up and down the court in St. Mary's gym.

You'd never know the Kaukauna boy has been in a heavyweight battle with cancer. Chemotherapy treatments have been blasting his young body since November, when he was told he had B-cell leukemia, an aggressive type of blood cancer.

Braeden's eyes widened on Tuesday at the gym, as another young hoopster named Jordan McCabe approached with a basketball whirling on a finger. His smile would have brightened midnight when the spinning ball is passed to a finger on his hand.

You may have heard of McCabe, a 5-foot-8 hoops whiz who can do magical things with a basketball. The 14-year-old Kaukauna teen and his jaw-dropping tricks have been featured on ESPN and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

McCabe learned of Braeden's plight and decided to put his basketball skills to good use. He has set up a free skills camp March 16 at Appleton Alliance Church Sportsplex in which every cent raised will benefit Braeden and his family.

"I couldn't find a reason why we shouldn't do it," said McCabe, a razzle-dazzle point guard who plays with the Kaukauna Boys Hoops Club, along with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors, an AAU program based in Kaukauna. "He's 6 years old. I couldn't really figure out why I wouldn't try to help kids like that. I've been all over the world, and I think this is one of the more important things I'll ever do in my life. Just being around him and talking to him and getting to know him and trying to help him."

McCabe will teach campers – roughly 300 participants are expected – one- and two-ball dribbling, ball-handling and jump rope. Money will come from donations and a T-shirt and bake sale.

"Anything we can do as a community to stand behind him and stand with him as he fights for his life at 6 years old is absolutely amazing," said McCabe, who thought of the idea when he instructed a similar camp in Marinette that raised money for its youth basketball programs.

'We knew something was wrong'

The small brass bell is fastened to a plaque that hangs on a wall inside the cancer unit at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.

It defines hope, fight, determination, focus, toughness and survival, and it's a needed source of inspiration for Braeden each time he sees it.

Cancer patients are told to tug on the small piece of rope and ring it when they finish their final chemotherapy treatment, a milestone celebration that marks the end of a physically and emotionally taxing journey and beckons the beginning of brighter days.

And soon, another triumph will be signaled by the beautiful sound of a bell's jingle.

"Every time we go down there, he says, 'I can't wait to ring that bell, Dad,'" Braeden's father, Jason, said. "The middle of May is his goal to be ringing that bell in that clinic ... that he's done."

He and his wife, Lynn, knew something wasn't right with Braeden following an unrelated surgery last fall. His joints were stiff. He had trouble walking. His stomach and back ached. And his overall condition continued to worsen.

Parents' intuition led to a visit with their pediatrician, which led to a CT scan, which led to a trip to Children's Hospital, which led to an eight-day stay for Braeden in the intensive care unit, six of those hooked up to a dialysis machine and tubes sprouting everywhere from his body.

The Jansens initially were told to pack an overnight bag on their way to Wauwatosa. They ended up staying 20 straight days and eventually would have to pull Braeden from his kindergarten class at Tanner Elementary.

"His chest was filling up with fluid, and his kidneys were shutting down," Jason said. "So they had to hook him up to a ton of machines just to help get his body back before they even started fighting off the disease. It's a fast-moving cancer. If it's not caught, it can be deadly within weeks. We knew something was wrong, but everyone just kept saying, 'Just let that surgery heal up and everything should be fine.' He wasn't getting better."

Today, Braeden's prognosis is excellent. Another trip to Wauwatosa is scheduled for Monday, and more treatments remain.

A sweet assist

Wearing a white T-shirt with the phrase "No One Fights Alone" printed on the back, Braeden bounced from wall to wall of St. Mary's gym Tuesday and mustered enough strength to throw up some shots. He seemed to be having the time of his life as he posed for pictures with his new hero, McCabe.

Braeden's father, Jason, had one word to describe McCabe's offer to help the family.

"Crazy," Jason said. "He has taken charge and set the whole thing up and asked if it was OK. It's more than OK. I think it's great. Phenomenal kid."

McCabe's father, Matt, said the need to help pulled hard at his son, and he felt he had the ability to do something.

"I think all of us would love to use some of our skills to help others," said Matt McCabe, a business analyst with Kimberly-Clark. "He's just fortunate enough to have worked hard and has a skill that's very unique and people like to watch, and he likes to give back and teach others. And then to be able to use that and help somebody else is pretty cool. I tell everybody, I'm more impressed with what he does off the court than on the court. He's probably one of the least selfish people I know."

McCabe realizes he has lived a charmed basketball life. Video clips of him dribbling like a Harlem Globetrotter have appeared on the old "Oprah Winfrey Show." He has wowed crowds during halftime shows of college basketball games. He has performed as part of NBA all-star and Final Four festivities. He has flown to Germany and Switzerland to partake in camps.

And he has worked out with NBA stars Steve Nash and Stephen Curry.

"It's amazing what a little round thing can do for you, where it takes you," McCabe said. "It's actually insane."

He figured if he could use his passion for basketball to help a family in need, why not?

"I've gotten lucky enough now to get to know Braeden," McCabe said. "And if I can help him in any way possible, whether that be a couple of years down the road or a couple of weeks down the road – whatever happens, and I know that I helped out, and I contributed to that? That's all I want to do."

You'll never see a sweeter assist.

Gannett News Services

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