CJ Cansino hoped to be a University of Santo Tomas lifer. He never, ever wanted to wear colors other than black and gold.
A pandemic. An alleged training camp. Missing his family and yearning to go home. The “bubble” bursting. A volcano erupting. A mass exodus. Two neighbors-slash-rivals. Maroon over blue.
Just like that, Cansino was playing for University of the Philippines.
A 12-2 elimination round. A second-seed. An injury to his other knee. A squandered twice-to-beat advantage. A Carl Tamayo takeover. A statement in Game One of the Finals. A response for Game Two. A decision. A designed play. A substitution. A game-tying triple, that ultimately sent the do-or-die game to overtime. A JD Cagulangan takeover. Maroon over blue.
Just like that, Cansino was a UAAP champion.
Nearly three years after losing in the finals to Ateneo – and nearly two years since losing his dream school – he was with UP. He was a champion.
“Ang paniniwala ko talaga is lahat, may reason. Nung nag-decision ako after UST, humingi ako ng sign kay God, and yung sign na yun was UP,” he shared a week after he played a key role in ending State U’s 36-year title drought.
“Kaya alam kong destiny talaga.”
Just like he had said right after Game Three, the 6-foot-2 guard was adamant he had no regrets about playing through his right knee injury. That knee injury has yet to have a proper diagnosis and will have to be re-examined a month from now after swelling has subsided.
“Actually, nag-decide ako pagtapos na pagtapos pa lang ng Game Two. Nahirapan akong matulog nun,” he recalled, referring to the finals loss where he could do nothing but stay on the sideline. “Tinanong ko talaga sarili ko, ano bang isa-sacrifice ko, career o yung team? Nag-decide akong maglalaro ako kasi napagdaanan ko na naman lahat. If ma-injury ulit, bata pa ako, pwede pa ako mag-next year.”
Next game, the last game of the season, not only did coach Goldwin Monteverde send him onto the court; the former actually schemed a play for the latter. A play that would’ve either tied the tally or kept their deficit at three, and most probably, given the ball back to their opponents.
Fortunately for UP, though, Monteverde’s gamble paid off big-time. Cansino went bank from the top of the key.
And right after his shot went in? Cansino didn’t celebrate. He was still looking out for the team.
“Nung na-shoot ko, wala na akong naisip kundi magpa-sub na agad. Alam kong wala akong depensa nung time na yun e,” he expressed, acknowledging that while he was willing to play through his injury, he was injured, nonetheless.
“Siyempre, nung natapos na lahat, masaya akong na-shoot ko, pero nung time na yun talaga, wala akong naramdaman.”
Following Cagulangan’s “takeovertime,” Cansino could finally celebrate. He could jump up and down – not as high as he would’ve wanted to because of his right knee, but he could jump, around and around his teammates and coaches.
That feeling, that moment, all thanks to destiny. That feeling, that moment, all for his family, who remained by his side through thick and thin. In particular, he dedicated UP’s historic championship to his mommy, who battled back from COVID a year ago.
“Miss na miss ko sila kasi nung pandemic, sa bahay ako nakatira e. Nasanay na kasi ako nung UST pa ako na dorm kami, pero nung pandemic, dun ko ulit nakasama pamilya ko,” he said of the family that made sure he knew he always had a home even though he was forced out of Espana.
“Siyempre, para sa family ko ‘tong championship. Sila naman yung unang naging inspirasyon ko e.”
Just as mommy Rowena fought off health issues to stay alive and kicking, so did her son come back from injury for his new team to stay alive and kicking. Without a doubt, she taught him well.