Under the hood with CJ Cansino

CJ Cansino enters a paint and body kits shop inside an alleyway located behind a Shell gas station on Marcos Highway. His R33 Nissan Skyline exuberantly announces itself while he drives it down the rocky patches of an uneven road. Most of the time the flamboyant basketball player exits his team’s locker room and moves his eyes up to the roaring applause from thousands of sports enthusiasts. Safe to say, these surroundings aren’t like the bright lights of The Big Dome or MOA Arena.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own appeal – especially when the occasion calls for not only discussing his skills on the hardwood, but also what’s under the hood.

On what’s a blistering hot afternoon on the first Monday of June, Cansino looks as if he is dressed to play a local version of a young Vin Diesel in a Fast & Furious remake. Unfortunately, there are no bottles of Corona to chug down, and nobody is preaching the merits of living a “quarter mile at a time.” There are still semblances to his game face, but CJ’s guard is down more than usual.

Buti gumana yung aircon today,” he laughs, but it wouldn’t have been so funny if the opposite happened. Nobody wants to drive through the unforgiving humidity without AC. More importantly, it would only confirm another part that needs fixing in his passion project.

Cansino recently acquired his project car which he’s named “Sky” from a car club. It cost quite a pretty penny and the ensuing required upgrades will undoubtedly add to the bill. It may have been one generation shy of the exact vehicle he once saw Paul Walker drive on a movie screen (R34 Nissan Skyline), but this gets him one step closer for now. As a kid he patiently waited for tita to bring home Hot Wheels figures from the United States. His toys have levelled up a bit since then. Well, almost there.

CJ says he’s 30% done with the project. It’s hard to resist the temptation once you’ve started. After all, there’s so much potential, skill, and ability to the vehicle. You’re just going to have to work your ass off. It might never be the most efficient machine, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exceptional.

Sounds familiar? To some degree – this car project is CJ Cansino’s career.

CJ grew up a fan of Barangay Ginebra. In a month’s time when the PBA Draft takes place, Tim Cone and 11 other PBA head coaches can add him to their roster. The former UAAP Rookie of the Year and Champion plans to submit his application under the guidance of VP Global Management and will once again battle against the peers he competed with in the amateur ranks.

Does this mean a playing opportunity in Asia is still completely out of the picture, if the opportunity presents itself? Not necessarily.

“Nung tinanong ko yung dad ko kung okay lang ba na umalis ako kung magkaroon ako ng offer sa ibang bansa, sabi niya, ‘Wag muna, dito ka muna.’” Cansino shares.

“Ang second reason ko din is feeling ko kasi hindi pa ako comfortable maglaro. Kasi galling ako injury. Kailangan ko pa yung timing. Feeling ko kung pumunta ako sa ibang bansa, inconsistent yung papakita ko, and pangit naman yun.”

Does he feel ready now?


Cansino and his mother shared an uplifting relationship. She was his sounding board. She was his comfort. She was his pride and joy. Rowena made everything okay. Losing her was crippling. That’s not a surprise. Losing a parent is often emotionally devastating. It doesn’t get better right away, but ultimately, maybe you learn to live with it. At least that’s how CJ now looks at it.

“Yung bonding namin, actually mas-tumibay din. Kasi syempre, kung ano naiwan ng mom namin, tinutuloy parin namin,” CJ says of his relationship with his father.

And what would he tell his mom now if he could speak to her?

“Okay na kami. Ang pinaka-worry ko lang naman is syempre yung dad ko… Okay na si dad, yun ang gusto kong sabihin.”

Perhaps time heals wounds. Maybe not all of them, but enough to provide more perspective to events from the past. When Cansino awaits for his name to be called on the stage, one of the coaches who might have the opportunity to select him is Aldin Ayo. It was under the multi-titled mentor’s stewardship that Cansino won UAAP Rookie of the Year in 2018 and made the finals a season later. The Growling Tigers, also accounting for Mark Nonoy, Rhenz Abando, and Soulemane Chabi-Yo in the mix, looked like they had the building blocks for a consistent title contender. Then, the pandemic happened. And of course, the Sorsogon Bubble.

In retrospect, would he have done things differently?

“Nung time na yun, dahil pandemic, magulo lahat… hindi ka makakapagisip ng tama,” Cansino reminisces. “Kami, dahil wala pa nga yung [UAAP] season, parang hindi pa namin alam kung hangang kalian kami. Aabot ba kami ng six months? So ang gusto lang namin umiwi lang muna, parang reset lang.”

Ayo was understandably upset. It was difficult to bring the team together because of the living circumstances, so letting them go and initializing the process to have everyone return anew would have been incredibly challenging.

“Naiintindihan namin siya. Siguro hindi lang nagkatugma-tugma, miscommunication, hangang sa lumabas na lahat ng issue,” CJ says, regretting how it all materialized.

Despite the ill feelings at first, he claims all is now well between him and his former head coach. “Sobrang okay,” is how he expounded on it.

After departing UST, CJ found himself at the welcoming grounds of University of the Philippines. A player looking for a fresh start was recruited by a team looking for blue-chippers to end a long championship drought. Was it enticing for the 24/7 news cycle that Cansino had a new university so quickly after leaving his last one? Yes. It was indicative of the new trend in college basketball: competition is fierce, so moves develop in quick fashion. This move paid off for both the school and player.

“Sobrang marketed nung UAAP. May mga brand endorsement, madaming pumapasok na pera, so bakit parang kasalanan ng player ng tumangap ng offer na makakabuti sakanya?” Cansino asks.

It’s a good point. If the league and teams are monetizing off ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorships, and other avenues, is it unfair to criticize the players, who are most responsible for the product, for maximizing their abilities? Take into account that athletes’ careers end quicker than other professions particularly because of the physical toll it puts on their bodies.

The cost of attaining glory was heavy. Less than four years after going through his first major ACL operation, CJ found himself under the knife again. He says, with passion, that he wouldn’t change anything. He’d make the same choice again. To play. To win. To hit that 3 that sent Game 3 into overtime.

As a consequence he watched from the bench as his team could not stop the last hurrah of the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ Angelo Kouame-led dynasty a few months later. He returned in 2023 as one of the UAAP’s vets. His UP Maroons battled its way to the top seed for the first time in the Final Four era. CJ was did not play many minutes but was an important key in Coach Goldwin Monteverde’s system. He experimented with his game on the court. He let it fly from deep. He flexed for the crowd. He told the Blue Eagles’ fans to keep quiet.

He believed they had the title in the bag after game one. He wasn’t the only one. With the way UP beat La Salle – the most lopsided finals win in the last three decades – confidence was at an all-time high. The Green Archers countered strong in game two, then Kevin Quiambao and Evan Nelle took over at the end of game three. Cansino knocked down a three-ball which gave UP a 61-55 lead to start the fourth quarter in the clincher, perhaps the runway to secure the victory. DLSU didn’t let go of the rope and at the end made a few more defensive stops to secure the title.

As this unfolded, CJ Cansino, playing in the final game of his long and exigent UAAP career, was on the bench.

“Ready ako pag papasok ako, kasi tingin ko babalik ako,” he recalls. “Tingin ko linabas lang ako para makapag pahinga… pero, syempre, ako, tiwala ako kay Coach Gold. Yung mindset ko nung time na yun, ‘Ako, ready lang ako. Kapag binalik ako, gagawin ko yung ginagawa ko talaga.’

Cansino now plays with Iloilo in the MPBL. He’s averaging nearly 30 minutes a game while registering numbers of 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 steals a contest. He’s teammates once again with Nonoy, who is expected to also join the draft. It’s too early to guarantee where CJ could be selected, but gauging recent history, it might be in the earlier rounds.

There are fundamental parts in his development as a player and person that need further growth. The mask-grabbing incident in the Subic carnival was a mistake, one he admitted and provided context to in our cover story video interview. He will have to adjust physically and mentally to compete against pros. He takes vlogging seriously – it’s recently become the digital diary of his car project’s development – which means being careful with what to post.

Cansino sees the end goal in sight. He wants to take care of his body, because he wants to play pro basketball for however long it will let him. Learning to drift the streets of Tokyo or drag race with Francis Lopez will have to wait until he finally hangs up his Nikes. Until then, his Skyline could use some attention in his off time.

Beyond the glitz and glamor, he wants to build a family. He pictures three, four, or five kids running around the house, presumably with their own Hot Wheels. He envisions wholesome weekends in the future with his now girlfriend, Alliana Dolina. No photograph or autograph requests. Just the spirit of being together.

One thing feels certain: that home is going to have a big garage.

Publisher and Creative Director: James Leonard Cruz, Producers: Joemar Moscaya, Paolo Gonzales, Art Director: Karlota Tuazon, Interview and Cover Story: Naveen Ganglani, Photo: Vyn Radovan, Video: JC Multimedia, Grooming: Cats Del Rosario, Styling: ALL-STAR Team, Brought to you by: Sailun Tire, Special Thanks To: Nexus Ark Paint and Body Kits, Cà Phê 3838.

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