AFTER bouncing around the league for the last eight seasons signing up with different teams but not quite fitting in, Nino 'KG' Canaleta is happy to finally prove he's more than just a high-flying freak show.
Known more for his record five slam-dunk titles than anything else, the high-flying forward has metamorphosed into a legitimate go-to guy in his third tour of duty with an Air21 team that made him the sixth pick overall in the 2005 PBA rookie draft.
“Thankful ako...malaking pasasalamat ko kay coach (Franz Pumaren) at sir Lito (Alvarez, Air21 governor), at sa buong Air21, nagkaroon ako ng opportunity uli na maipakita ko yung kaya kong gawin, na di lang slam-dunk champion, parang ganoon," said Canaleta.
"Kasi dito may green light ako (to shoot). Parang sige, laro ka lang, walang pressure, dito ko nakita yung pagkakataon na makapaglaro talaga,” he added.
Canaleta spoke after scoring a personal conference-high 37 points on 9-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc in a 95-91 overtime win over Petron on Saturday night - a performance that proved enough to earn him the PBA Press Corps' Player of the Week citation.
The 6-6 Canaleta’s nine three-pointers actually tied the franchise record for three-pointers scored in a single game set by Ren-ren Ritualo as the Express sealed a place in the Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals as the eighth seed while eliminating Barako Bull from playoff contention.
Canaleta bounced around the league after playing his first three seasons as a pro with Air21, spending time with Purefoods/Derby Ace/B-Meg and Barangay Ginebra before returning to Air21 again before the start of the season.
With Pumaren giving him the green light to shoot from the outside, Canaleta said he has resolved to improve his craft by taking extra shots from beyond the arc before every practice.
“Nag-e-extra ako ng shooting, mga 30 minutes siguro, so naging muscle memory na lang siya sa laro,” said the Tarlac City native, who had a career-high 41 points in the Express' 112-93 win over Globalport on December 5, 2012.
Needless to say, Pumaren is so proud of the hard work put in by his flamboyant forward who he said is his early candidate for the Most Improved Player award.
“One thing I love about Nino, di mahiyain ito. Streak shooter siya. He really does extra shooting every practice. I’m proud of the way he’s playing,” said Pumaren.
“Our first objective when we got him is that we want him to know that he’s more than just a novelty player. Now, I’m campaigning for him to be the most improved player,” added the Air21 coach.