MANILA, Philippines – Hubert Cani drove to his right and then maneuvered to his left. A second later, he dribbled hard before stopping behind the 3-point line in a snap of a finger, catching his defender – poor Jollo Go of La Salle – out of balance.
It was like watching an artist create a masterpiece. Slow, steady, and precise. Nothing was rushed. Everything calculated. There was an idea behind every motion.
Cani then spun right, or at least it seemed that way. After being half-way through his turn, he returned left and penetrated hard, leaving the off-balanced Go a half-step behind.
That was all it took. As Go tried to catch up, Cani suddenly stepped back and calmly drained the dagger right between the eyes of his man. The final buzzer didn’t sound, but it was already clear: the upset was complete, and FEU just defeated its long-time rival.
“Pinapractice ko yun as an individual sa court, kahit ako lang mag isa,” Cani told Rappler in an exclusive interview after the game.
(I practice that as an individual on the court, even if I do it by myself.)
With a semifinal spot in the Filoil preseason tournament on the line, the Tamaraws took down the Green Archers 76-69, behind 22 points by Cani on a very effective 8-of-10 shooting from the field.
Hubert Cani. Dagger. What a quarter for him. Safe to say he’s finally arrived. pic.twitter.com/2JqiDuyZqP — Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) June 28, 2018
Make no mistake about it: preseason, tune-up, or an actual game, there will always be animosity and too much history between these two rivals. So any victory will be celebrated, and any defeat will sting.
In this latest triumph for FEU, it can thank its lucky stars for Cani – a once sure blue-chip recruit turned out-of-shape misfit turned reclamation success.
By now, Cani’s story is well-known.
After winning Finals MVP for NU’s high school team in the UAAP juniors basketball tournament back in 2013, the talented point guard decided to transfer to Ateneo for the next stage of his playing career.
Conflict with his old school and dealing with the UAAP’s rule – a mandatory two-year residency period for kids transferring from one UAAP high school to another for college – forced him to sit out the 2014 men’s basketball season.
Cani eventually debuted in 2015, but looked a few pounds too heavy and failed to earn significant minutes for the Blue Eagles. A few months later, it was revealed that he would miss the next UAAP after failing to meet the required grade for Ateneo student-athletes.
That eventually paved the way for his arrival at FEU, where after having an okay first season with the Tams in 2017, it looks like it’s time for him to finally live up to all the potential that had many excited about his future 5 years ago.
“Syempre lahat yun, obstacles yun, yung mga nangyari sa akin the past years. Pero syempre, ginagawa ko yun as a motivation din, kasi doon tayo gagaling – kapag kailangan natin ma-prove sa sarili natin ano yung kaya natin gawin,” said Cani as he opened up about his past ordeals.
(Of course, everything I went through were obstacles. But of course, I used it as motivation because that’s how we improve – when our backs are against the wall and we need to prove to ourselves that we can accomplish what we have to.)
A lot of credit goes to the FEU coaching staff, led by head coach Olsen Racela, for helping Cani rediscover his gifts on the basketball court. But most of the work came from him, which was evident as he put on a playmaking display against La Salle that left even those watching from the stands dizzy.
Cani scored 10 of FEU’s final 12 points, including 8 in the final two minutes alone. After an Aljun Melecio 3-pointer put DLSU ahead 65-63, Cani answered with a triple of his own to give the Tamaraws the lead for good.
What happened in the next possessions will leave fans of the team excited: step-backs, hesitation moves, superb fundamentals, and stupendous shooting. Simply put, it was one heck of a show.
“Marami akong changes talaga,” Cani shared about what led to this new and improved version of him. “Actually, hindi ako nag diet. More on nag extra lang talaga ako. Nag cardio, weights, sprinting. Lahat yun, ginawa ko.”
(I made a lot of changes. Actually, I didn’t go on a diet. I focused more on exercise. I did cardio, weights, sprinting. I did all of those.)
What made Cani a highly-coveted high school standout was his ambition. He craved for success, and put in the work regularly in order to attain it. But with off-court distractions along the way, it’s not difficult to comprehend why he fell off the path required for success.
With factors outside of basketball now in order, he can concentrate on reaching the aspirations he set out for himself.
“As an individual kasi gusto ko talaga mag champion sa UAAP, makapag PBA. Lahat naman nang basketball athlete sa atin ang dream talaga maging Gilas, PBA, so gagawin ko lahat yun para sa sarili ko,” he said with the type of confidence that wasn’t present when he first got to the UAAP.
(As an individual, I want to win a championship in the UAAP then make it to the PBA. All basketball athletes in our country have dreams of making it to the national team, the PBA, so I’ll do everything I can to reach that.)
Now lean and with the mental confidence to go with his physical capabilities, Cani isn’t planning on being content – especially with only two years of playing eligibility left for the future.
“Siguro hindi pa ako in shape talaga na sobra-sobra. Meron pa akong i-improve sa sarili para mas gumaling pa ako as an individual, and makapag-contribute as a team. Syempre yun mahalaga – makapag contribute ka sa team mo.”
(I’m not yet in top shape. I still have to work harder to get better as an individual and to contribute to the team. Of course, that’s what matters – contributing to the team.)
That attitude, mixed with the special things he can do on a basketball court, should have Racela and the rest of the FEU community beyond excited for what’s to come. – Rappler.com