AIR21’s Nino Canaleta has definitely come a long way from being just as a slam dunk champion.
Canaleta has in fact reached a milestone in his career by becoming a national team member after he was drafted into the Gilas Pilipinas team that saw action in an invitational tournament in Dubai.
Air21 head coach Franz Pumaren was happy to see the former University of the East Warrior shine in just a few months with the Express, a stint highlighted by a head-turning 41-point performance against Globalport that obviously did not escape the eye of national coach Chot Reyes.
“I think he deserves to be there (with Gilas),” said Pumaren. “I think he is very talented. (It's just that before) he was not given the right opportunity.”
The former La Salle coach has seen Canaleta make a name for himself as a high-flyer with the UE Warriors then bounce around a couple of teams in the pro league after being drafted by Air21 in 2005 - never really finding his niche.
His one claim to fame during that time was his flashy dunks that saw him rule the league's Slam Dunk side show five times in his career.
But that changed as soon as he was traded back by the Gin Kings to the Express as Canaleta blossomed under Pumaren's guidance, averaging 16.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in the recent Philippine Cup.
He even placed 18th in statistical points in the race for the Best Player of the Conference plum.
“Novelty player siya sa mga ibang teams niya. He was more known for being a slam dunk champion. But look at him now,” said a proud Pumaren. "It was about being given the opportunity and confidence."