MANILA, Philippines - When the Air21 Express needed big baskets to force overtime against the Meralco Bolts this past Saturday, Nino “KG” Canaleta relied on a weapon not everyone would associate with him: the three-point shot.
Down 70-77 in the dying minutes of the fourth period, Canaleta did not let Meralco escape with a win in regulation, burning the hoops with three consecutive outside bombs that forced the extra time.
"Binigyan kami ng chance. Nag-overtime so sabi ko sa sarili ko, ito na 'yun. Kaya nga lang noong overtime, we came up short," said the 33-year-old Air21 gunner from Tarlac. (They gave us a chance. In overtime, I said to myself this is it. However we came up short.)
Though Air21 eventually fell to the Meralco Bolts 92-88, Canaleta finished with 32 points, his best output in the season so far.
From slam dunk king to three-point assassin
Often known as the "Da Vinci of dunks," the lightweight, high-flying Canaleta soared his way to five PBA slam dunk crowns, the most in league history.
However, the six-foot-five former University of the East Red Warrior realized there's more to the game than just being a dunker; he recognized the need to develop another weapon to make his arsenal a complete package.
And as his career progressed in the big league, the outside shot carried him through each match.
"Di naman sa na-in love pero naisip ko lang na kung puro dunk, kailangan sa liga may shooting ka. Kaya inensayo ko yun. Na-develop kaya may shooting," the nine-year PBA veteran told Rappler. (Not that I fell in love with the three-point shot but I thought, in the pro ranks you have to have shooting. I practiced that and it became part of my arsenal.)
Still, a few spectators would raise their eyebrows from time to time whenever KG connects from rainbow country. But he says he considers his outside touch to be an indispensible asset.
"Pag puro dunk, prone ka sa injury. Nasa instinct ko na lang. Kasi pag nakakashoot ka, kumpiyansa na." (If you just dunk all the time, you get prone to injury. It's just my instinct to shoot. Whenever I get a basket, it boosts my confidence.)
So far, the reigning PBA Most Improved Player is ranked no. 19 in three-point percentage, hitting on 30.4 percent of his three-pointers in the PLDT myDSL Philippine Cup. He's also the Express' leading scorer, putting up 15.8 points per outing.
Career game under the national team
One of Canaleta's memorable games came while wearing the Gilas Pilipinas jersey.
At the Dubai International Basketball Tournament in January of 2013, Gilas succumbed to Al Sagesse, 65-95 but drew a scorching performance from Canaleta, who torched the hoops with eight triples for 32 points.
Indeed, it has been a while since Canaleta added the rainbow shot to his weaponry. Asked if he had a shooting coach, the many-time national team member said he just learned from other shooters in the league.
"Yung mga napapanood ko lang at nakikita, hanggang sa madevelop ang sariling shooting," he said. (I just learned from watching other shooters, until I developed my own shooting.)
Every time Canaleta hits one from beyond the arc, his confidence rises. He's a fine example of how a player can evolve and change their game. Whenever a team needs someone to take the big shots, they can count on KG. -Rappler.com