Get to know the Pinoy therapist working with the Canadian national team

Sep 29, 2021
PHOTO: Kris Jon Vargas (basketball_kris) on Instagram

"WE'RE like firefighters, when everyone runs away from the fire, we run towards it."

This is how KrisJon Vargas, one of the athletic therapists of the Canada Men's National Basketball Team, described his job to SPIN Life.

Vargas, 42, has spent 14 years of his life (and counting!) serving the Road Warriors with his expertise in athletic therapy, massage therapy and kinesiology. He also sometimes pulls double duty with several teams in the NBA.

"My job is keep all the players in condition, take care of anybody who got hurt or injured during games and practices," said Vargas.

It's a job, he says, that requires nerves of steel.

"Major injury or not, we have to stay chill. Everyone else can be nervous but not me, certinaly not me," reflected Vargas. "I can't panic, cause if I do, players will, coaches will, companies will. So I can be the chillest person on the court at any given time."

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In their line of work, a typical game day is, believe it or not, when their job is least crucial. Conditioning players, after all, begins right from the get-go, during the pre-season.

"Our routine, we come to the training camp at around 6 a.m., breakfast, jump on the bus, practice for a couple of hours, team discussions, lunch, proceed to second practice, dinner, then we're treating players from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.," he said.

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Vargas continued: "So game days are pretty much the chillest. But we have to be quick. Cause when a player gets injured, it's a matter of how quickly we can determine the severity, and determine their availability to play. It does play a lot of role for us, cause in the NBA, injuries affect a lot of aspects."

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    How KrisJon Vargas got his job as a high-level hoops PT

    Vargas, though born and raised in Canada, was born of both Filipino parents. His dad is from Apalit, Pampanga, while his mom is a Lucena, Quezon native.

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    He currently holds a masters degree in applied physiology and kinesiology that he earned from the University of Florida. He also holds two other degrees.

    Vargas has dealt with players of all ages, from grassroots programs to the elementary and high school level, all the way up to the pros.

    Throughout this career, he's seen the likes of Golden State's Andrew Wiggins, Sacramento's Tristan Thompson, and former NBA top draft pick Anthony Bennett grow up.

    "I've seen them evolve from kids to the biggest basketball stage," he said. "Wiggins, for instance, there's this one time, he was around 12 or 13, he got lost and everyone's panicking looking for him only to find him in a room, watching SpongeBob SquarePants. Players were that young."

    He also served the U-19, U-17, and U-16 cadets team. In fact, he's also had a frontrow seat to the astounding growth of the Canadian National Team.

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    Four years after he was snapped up, it won a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games, which they hosted, as well as a bronze at the Fiba AmeriCup held in Mexico.

    Currently, in the Fiba Word Rankings, the CMNBT ranks 18 out of 164 nations.

    "When I first started, [my] first official job was in the U-15. We were so unprepared for rapid growth back then. I saw how huge of a work is needed to get a Canadian to the NBA," he shared. "Six years later, we got five guys on it."

    It's something he feels can also happen with that long-harbored dream of getting a Filipino play in the NBA.

    "I want to see a homegrown Filipino in the NBA, and I am to share what I know to make that happen," he said.

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    Working on a passion project

    As he continues his career with the Canadian cagers, Vargas is also working on a little side project of his own — one that could even help the collective Pinoy NBA dream.

    "I'm trying to unify Filipino-Candian coaches here. I want to help and I know how, I've seen the Canada team from scratch, and how successful it can be with the right programs," he said.

    After all, there's no place like home. The last time he visited the Philippines was five years ago during a Fiba Asia Olympic Qualifying Tournament, and seeing Filipino kids dream left an indelible mark on him as a coach-therapist.

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    "Filipinos could dream high and achieve high. I want the kids from the Philippines to know that they have access to me. I want to help them get to a higher level of play," he said.

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    PHOTO: Kris Jon Vargas (basketball_kris) on Instagram
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