MANILA, Philippines -- In his return from injury, University of Santo Tomas (UST) sophomore CJ Cansino has struggled to show the athleticism and aggression that made him one of the most exciting young players in the league last year.
Cansino averaged 12.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game as a rookie, but his freshman campaign was cut short by an ACL injury. He recovered in time to join the Growling Tigers for UAAP Season 82, but it was clear that he was still trying to regain his form.
His numbers dipped: heading into Wednesday's game against University of the Philippines (UP), Cansino averaged just 4.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, playing just over 15 minutes every contest. The sophomore was diplomatic about his lack of playing time, however.
"For me, mas deserve nila 'yung spot, kasi 'yun nga, sila, simula noong November 28 nagpa-practice na sila, tapos ako one month lang," said Cansino, who joined UST training belatedly.
"Tanggap ko naman na bababa talaga 'yung playing time ko," he added.
Cansino was not discouraged. UST head coach Aldin Ayo had named him team captain ahead of the season, and it was a role that he cherished.
"As a captain naman, hindi lang playing time 'yung matutulong ko. May matutulong din ako on and off the court bilang captain," he said.
Against UP, however, Cansino showed that he was finally beginning to find his rhythm again. Starting for only the fifth time in Season 82, Cansino knocked down three three-pointers in the first quarter to help UST take a 23-22 lead.
He finished with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Though he cooled off in the second half, Cansino was emboldened by his strong start.
"Siguro nagtiwala lang ulit ako sa sistema," said the sophomore.
"Marami pa talagang kulang and 'yung nag-improve lang talaga sa akin yung shooting. Kaya more on shooting na talaga ako ngayon, hindi muna ako masyado umaatake. Pero pag may chance, umaatake din ako, kasi to create for my teammates," he added.
Cansino never lost his confidence even as his minutes dipped, and instead poured his focus on the work he needed to do to regain his old strength and athleticism.
"Lagi ko lang sinasabi sa sarili ko na trabaho lang ako, mag-work hard lang ako para makuha ko ulit 'yung playing time ko, na tumaas ulit," he said.
After tallying his season-high in points, Cansino is optimistic that he can only keep improving, and can now play at a high level -- something that UST will definitely need from him as they try to lock up a Final 4 spot.
"Sana, sana. Kasi 'yun nga, kailangan din ako ng team para makapag-contribute din ako nang maayos. Sana makuha ko talaga," he said.
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