Why Lander Canon might be the MPBL’s next best reliable big

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When Bacoor Strikers assistant coach and big man specialist Mark Andaya first saw current team center Lander Canon in practice, he had to ask head coach Aldrin Morante straightforwardly: “Lalaban ba ‘yan?”

Not that he doubted Canon’s abilities in the hardcourt; it was just that Andaya was unacquainted with the 6-foot-3 big, so he was intrigued at how an undersized big could potentially be the main man in the middle for the Strikers which were preparing for the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Invitational tournament.

“Noong dumating ako sa Bacoor for the first time, nakita ko ‘yung line-up, pare-parehas lang halos ‘yung height nila… so tinanong ko agad si coach Aldrin, ‘Sino ang number one big man natin?’,” the former Letran Knights center said.

“Tinuro niya si Lander, and noong nakita ko si Lander, medyo hindi siya ganoon katangkad. Pero maganda ang built ng katawan niya. So sabi ko, ‘Lalaban ba ‘yan?’,” Andaya added, detailing his first encounter with Canon, whom the Strikers were able to pluck out of free agency.

It was only when Bacoor’s scrimmages pushed through when Canon was able to earn the respect of the 6-foot-8 Andaya, who was in awe of the hardworking big’s dedication to his craft.

“Tapos noong nagsimula na kami mag-practice, ‘yung lack of height and heft, nababawi niya sa laki ng puso niya at sa dedication niya sa role niya sa team namin. Alam niyang wala nang ibang big man. Alam niyang siya ang magiging focal point ng big men namin,” Andaya said of Canon.

A product of Pasig Catholic College, Canon recognizes he isn’t a team’s number one scoring option or the star.

But one of the best traits the Strikers can expect from him is his penchant for doing the dirty work every time he’s on the floor. It’s how he’s developed a niche in collegiate basketball, and what his previous teams liked about him.

“Sobrang halaga ni Lander sa team. Siya ‘yung pinakabata sa amin. Ang sarap niyang turuan. Ina-absorb niya lahat ng sinasabi namin,” Morante shared.

“Thankful ako may bata kaming big man na nakuha sa Bacoor. Talagang tututukan namin ‘yan. Si Big Mak (Andaya) at Marlou (Aquino), nakatutok rin sa kaniya sa practice. Every practice, talagang ‘yung dalawa, tinutulungan rin siya kaya swerte siya, may dalawang big man talaga na nagtuturo sa kaniya.”

Living to his hype, Canon handled his baptism of fire pretty well during their pro debut. The slot man grabbed seven rebounds in the first quarter alone, and was a presence everywhere — in loose ball situations, rebound plays, and every time the ball was underneath the hoop.

He finished that Saturday game against the All-Star Bacolod Ballers with 13 rebounds and a plus-7, although Bacoor came up short, 73-71.

“He knows his role and he works double-time sa rebounds, sa sipag, sa hustle. ‘Yun ang maganda sa kaniya. He is up to the challenge na siya na ang number one big man namin and nakikita ko sa kaniya ang malaking potential. He is a listener, a follower, and he loves to learn how to play the right way,” Andaya added.

Fortunately, the former Pasig Sta. Lucia Realtors back-up big would finally be able to break into the win column in the Strikers’ dominant Monday win over the Caloocan Excellence, 72-50.

Canon started the game and was able to haul down seven rebounds in under 13 minutes. In addition, he was a plus-15 and had a steal and a block, making impact in the time he was in the ballgame.

“What I like about players like him lalo na’t nagsisimula, is ‘yung hunger nila sa game. They know na ito ang magiging bread and butter nila sa family nila, sa sarili nila. Lagi ko naman siyang mino-motivate na, Lander, ito na ang bubuhay sa’yo. Ito ang pagkakataon mo, malaking stage, MPBL, na mapakita kung what are you built for sa liga na ito — magkaroon ka ng niche sa MPBL,” Andaya furthered.

Canon does not like to complicate things either; he approaches every game with the mindset of giving what’s asked of him.

“Simple lang naman, defense and all. And then ‘yung mga main men namin, screen and seal. ‘Yun ang laging tinuturo sa akin nina coach Marlou at Mac,” he said, adding that he treats it as a luxury to be mentored by an all-time PBA great, and a former first-round pick.

“Sobrang laking lesson sa akin kasi experienced sila. Natuturo nila ‘yung knowledge nila sa akin, and ako naman ina-apply ko lang sa team ‘yung mga tinuturo nila,” Canon added.

“Less na ‘yung pressure sa akin kasi alam ko na paano maglaro sa game. Nage-enjoy lang rin ako.”

As for the long view, Andaya believes Canon can definitely be a staple in the MPBL level. Besides, his two-game averages of 10 RPG and a plus-minus of 11 are encouraging signs that are hard to ignore.

“Ito ang magandang opportunity (for him), wala na kami, tapos na kami maglaro, kaya ito na ang pagkakataon mo maging next big man ng Bacoor,” Andaya mentioned.

“‘Yung sipag niya at pagiging listener niya sa mga beterano, nakikita naman natin sa laro, like dirty work, simple boxout, rebounds, bilib na bilib ako sa kaniya and all his efforts sa team.”

Photos from Chooks-to-Go MPBL

Nguyễn J. Văn Linh (Levi Verora)