The UST Growling Tigers' young star CJ Cansino is set to return at full strength this coming UAAP Season 82.
"He's been playing already," coach Aldin Ayo said in Filipino. "He's been practicing almost two to three weeks. He'll be ready. He worked everything in rehab."
For the last several months, the 6-foot-1 guard has been recuperating from an ACL tear on his left knee that cut his impressive rookie career short. He suffered the injury in UST's second to the last game and eventually sat out in their season finale. The Tigers finished the season with a 5-9 record, missing the Final Four.
"They (training staff) made sure that CJ returns in full blast. No minutes restrictions. We made sure that when he returned, he's ready to play."
In Season 81, Cansino, a UAAP Juniors MVP, introduced himself to the collegiate ranks in stellar fashion. He posted averages of 12.8 points on 44 percent shooting, alongside 10.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He even put up a triple-double during the season, a feat unheard of from a rookie since 2003.
His poise, maturity, and overall playmaking established himself as a leader for the Tigers.
"It's different now because he's the only sophomore who's a captain ball," Ayo said. "It's not because he'll do anything new. With the players that we have, we have lots of leaders - Renzo Subido, co-captain Zach Huang, Enrique Caunan."
"But CJ is solid. Although he's a sophomore, the respect that he has with his team is already there and I think he can lead us."
As young as Cansino is, he's up for the challenge in leading the Tigers.
"First of all, of course, I'm happy that coach gave me the responsibility to be the team captain even though I'm just a sophomore," Cansino said in Filipino. "But at the same time, he also gave me confidence because, with all the players that we have, I was chosen."
"Of course, I want to lead the team to wins and a championship. I will do everything that I can every game and every practice so that I can help the coaching staff and my teammates so that we can all grow together until we reach our goal," he added.
Cansino's recovery, as well as his rise as a leader, are promising signs for the Tigers who are trying to return to prominence. They are on track to hopefully make a return to the Final Four after a busy offseason.
Veteran guard Marvin Lee opted to forego his final playing year to pursue his dream of playing professionally. Though his absence will be missed, his shoes will be filled by the likes of Subido, Huang, and Caunan. UST also boasts the services of explosive rookie Mark Nonoy in its roster, as well as transferee Brent Paraiso, and Benin big man Chabi Yo.
"The way I see it, our lineup became decent. But if you look at the other teams, they improved also - UP, UE, La Salle's one-and-dones. So all teams improved," said Ayo. "What happened is we became decent, but the other teams, also raised their level. We're just hoping for the best and we're just going to do our best."
Ayo, Cansino, and the rest of the Growling Tigers will have their chance to prove themselves when they face the UE Red Warriors on opening day on September 4. "We're ready. One month before the opening, I can say that the players are ready, the whole team is ready," said Ayo. "We can't wait to play that first game against UE."