In basketball, just like any other sport, you’re only as good as your last performance. Players understand this from a young age, so they work their way up and train hard to be at their best, giving it all and more whenever they step on the court. After all, times have changed, and there are bigger opportunities waiting for a Pinoy hooper if he does enough to impress—and we’re not only talking about the local big leagues here. More and more homegrown basketball stars (the likes of Thirdy Ravena, Carl Tamayo, and even last year’s Candy Cutie Dave Ildefonso) are making waves in the international basketball scene, proving that sky’s the limit if you put your heart and mind into the game.
The up-and-coming stars of the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) Season 86 men’s basketball are rising to the challenge, as the league brought a massive stepping stone to the country’s most successful ballers of today. But all play and no life can be quite the grind, so they enjoy life outside the court, too! Beyond the roaring cheers and social media hype, these athletes are also students—and they’re certainly not exempted from the granular realities and joys of growing up.
Armed with irresistible charm, noteworthy style, and inspiring work ethic, this year’s batch of Candy Cuties will surely steal hearts on and off the court.
Meet UAAP Season 86’s Candy Cuties
CJ Cansino, UP Fighting Maroons
White Sando, P395, TERRANOVA, UPTC. Black Denim Jacket, P2999, COTTON ON, SM Aura.
When it comes to basketball accomplishments, CJ has been consistently impactful all throughout his playing years, from being a UAAP Juniors MVP to being instrumental in ending UP’s 36-year drought with his iconic overtime-forcing three-point shot against Ateneo. But even now that he’s approaching his final year in the league, his off-season preparations look like he’s still got something to prove. He feels excited about his comeback, a long time coming after just watching from the sidelines for an entire year due to his ACL injury. “Sobrang saya, kasi UP din yung nagbigay ng chance sakin,” the third year BS Physical Education student said, pertaining to Diliman’s warm welcome after his controversial exit from his former school in España.
Despite the team failing to win back-to-back chips last season, he’s confident that they’re coming back stronger than ever—utilizing his veteran knowledge to guide the young brood as the incoming team captain. Asked about his thoughts on the issue of UP allegedly hoarding the best collegiate talents, he gave credit to the school’s prestigious program for providing the best opportunities for athletes. “Siguro naman lahat ng teams are trying to get the players, especially coming out of high school. Sa tingin ko, magaling lang mag-market ang UP kaya mas pansin na feeling natin mas marami kaming kinukuha pero pag titingnan sa papers, almost pare-pareho lang na naglipat at nakakuha lahat ng schools,” he said.
Despite suffering major injuries, none of these can make CJ walk away from playing the game he loves since boyhood. “Pangarap ko lang talaga ‘to eh. Mas magsisisi ako if mag-quit ako. And meron kasi akong palaging sinasabi na, once mag-quit ako, magiging habit na. Ayoko siya maging habit na porket may problem sa isa, lilipat na ko sa iba. Gusto ko yung challenge.”
In his book, longevity and resilience are of utmost importance, some values that translate to other aspects of his life, yup, even to his Wattpad-worthy romance with vlogger Alliana Dolina. In a world where basketball players typically equate to walking red flags, CJ is refreshingly raising standards. “I think kasi mas malaki yung percentage na may lalaki na nahuhuli na fuckboy, I mean okay lang yun as long as alam mo sa sarili mo na di ka ganun. Trust and communication lang, and understanding sa isa’t isa kasi yun yung mahalaga sa relationship. And yung maturity niyo, sabay kayo mag-gogrow, yun naman yung nangyayari samin.”
Chris Koon, ADMU Blue Eagles
Blue Corduroy Shorts, P800; Longsleeves Polo, P1000; Cap, P799 all from COTTON ON, SM Aura.
Ask a winner about a secret to success, and they’ll probably talk about stars aligning in their favor. For Chris, whose versatile performance in Season 85 was highly-raved by his coach Tab Baldwin, their championship is nothing but a culmination of months of trial and error, until the moment they reaped the results of their hard work. The defending champ has nothing but gratitude for the whirlwind year, where they lost the chip to UP in season 84 and eventually got it back seven months after in season 85. “It definitely felt like more than just a year with the two seasons,” he said of their “revenge tour”. “Going through such a low, at the beginning of the season, we kinda struggled. It was a crazy year, but I’m glad we ended it with a win.”
The Fil-Am winger, whose off-court interests include music (he has his own music production account on IG!) and all things food and coffee, is enjoying student life in Ateneo, including those moments he spends outside of games. Now in his senior year as a BS Management Economics student, it’s safe to say he has integrated himself well into the college culture in Katipunan. “Last semester is when I experienced my first full on-site classes. It’s fun seeing everyone and finally being in the classroom after so long being online. I love the student life, social life, and the food on campus is great. It’s just great being around everyone.”
Beyond the game highlights and rings, Chris believes that athletes shouldn’t be put in a higher place than where they supposedly should be—especially in the context of systemic problems in the sport including sexual abuse of athletes. “I think there’s definitely a need to talk about it in sports, in general. A lot of athletes get a lot of benefits, but I think everyone should be held accountable as to what it’s worth and what’s right for the victims.”
Earl Abadam, DLSU Green Archers
Cream Knit Polo, P1499; Denim Shorts, P1999, COTTON ON, SM Aura.
19-year-old Earl might be dead set on pursuing a basketball career, but his megawatt smile could easily give his generation’s actors a run for their money. He’s more than just a pretty face though, dubbed in 2021 as one of the “brightest Pinoy prospects in Australia.” Traveling to the Philippines before he was even of legal age, he works hard to make a mark for his family’s future. “My dad and my mom are big role models for me. They’ve been through the hard stuff coming here and then going to another country to start a new life. That’s basically one of my biggest inspirations,” he shared.
A team steeped in controversy after failing to make it in the Final 4 last season despite its powerhouse lineup, Earl is optimistic that the addition of coach Topex Robinson will do the Green Archers wonders come season 86. “He just brings us all together as a team. He quiets down the personalities, training us in a way that we can play to the best of our abilities. It’s not just the technical side of it, but more of his impact on our culture.”
The Sports Management sophomore, who is a self-confessed foodie and lover of anime, knows that a good basketball team thrives with role players, and he’s eager to make an impact where it’s called. “There’s this basketball advice I learned from Coach Topex, it’s knowing what you need to do on the court to impact the game. Doesn’t necessarily mean scoring, just helping the team at any given time.”
John Galinato, NU Bulldogs
Yellow Sando, P399, H&M, Megamall. Brown Shorts, P1899, COTTON ON, SM Aura.
Contrary to their team name, the NU Bulldogs came as underdogs last Season 85, so consider it an understatement when they surprised the league’s strongest teams by emerging on top come the end of the first round. They might’ve fallen short of winning the chip, but their performance was just a sampling of what they can offer in the seasons to come, says veteran John. “The season was full of ups and downs, but it’s a great learning experience. Feeling ko yung samahan namin as a team yung nagpalakas samin. Kasi everyday naman kami nagkakasama outside of training. Yung bond, pag-galang namin sa isa't isa. Masaya kami pag magkakasama.”
Now in his 4th year as a BSBA major in Financial Management student, John has no regrets on choosing NU as his school, especially given the massive support of its management and the community to student-athletes. “Yung atmosphere, yung community, masaya. Pati yung mga professors namin. Yung mga blockmates ko, tropa naman sila lahat. Sobrang understanding and patient nila if trainings. Naka-support lang sila samin lagi. Hindi naman special treatment kasi fair chances naman binibigay nila even to non-student athletes.”
Outside of basketball, the Cebuano star player takes pride in his passion for cooking. His specialty? Homecooked burgers! He shares, “I’m very passionate about cooking. The food itself and how you prepare and cook it, [it] interests me a lot.”
Rey Remogat, UE Red Warriors
Cream White Cargo Pants, P2799, COTTON ON, SM Aura.
Coming into college, Rey had no flashy background under his name, as he was once a walk-on rookie whose profile paled in comparison to other esteemed prospects. Now revered for his breakout performance in UE’s last two games in Season 85, he is dubbed the “next big thing” of his team in the upcoming Season 86, and he’s excited to pick up where he left off. “Yung season ko, bitin. Last two games na ko medyo nagkaron ng break. Sana this season, matuloy ko yung mga nagawa ko.”
Any baller can cultivate talent and intensity, but for the BA Business Administration sophomore, it’s his ability to be all-heart during his time on court that fans can look forward to. “Yung puso ko sa laro talaga, kasi di naman ako ganun ka-gifted eh. Di ganon katangkad, kabilis, kalaki katawan. Babawi ako sa puso sa laro. Yung tipong makikipagpatayan ako sa loob ng court, and kahit anong mangyari hanggat di magba-buzzer, go hard ako. Yun mapapangako ko sa UE community and sa team namin.”
He admits to struggling with insecurity during the early point of his career, but if there’s anything Rey can tell you, it’s the joys of reaping what you sow, especially when you put in the extra work. He looks up to former UAAP standout RJ Abarrientos, who was awarded Rookie of the Year in Korean Basketball League, and hopes to replicate his success in the future. “Simula nung juniors ako, nakita ko pano work ethic nya. Hanggang sa pandemic, nag-stay siya ng one year sa Diliman, napaisip ako bat niya ginawa yun. Nilu-look up ko work ethic niya, kung pano siya maglaro at pano niya mahalin basketball.”
If you’re on TikTok, you’ll probably stumble upon one of his dance covers, as he likes to create content when he’s not busy with games. “Na-e-enjoy ko yung mga dance challenges na lumalabas, kasi family of dancers kami. Pero tamang sabay lang sa challenge,” he says.
Nic Cabanero, UST Growling Tigers
Retro Tan Polo Short Sleeve, P2599, COTTON ON, SM Aura. Bucket Hat, P395, MILKWEAR (@milkwearofficial).
Nic’s team might’ve not made it big last season, but his tenacity and dominance on the court surely didn’t go unnoticed, especially with his performances worthy of the iconic “Go USTE” chant. Guarded by every team’s best defenders, he gave his all and more—in hopes to give back his school’s love. “The best thing siguro yung support ng mga fans and ng UST community towards the UST men’s basketball team. Win or lose, andyan pa din sila, di sila nawawala. Every game nafi-feel ko na andun presence nila. Big help din sa boost ng confidence.”
As of now, he’s focused on finishing stronger in the upcoming season with a new coach and teammates, and has his sights set on someday making it to the big international leagues. “Yun talaga yung primary goal ko. I think lahat na ng Pilipino ganun iniisip which is much better. Gusto ko maglaro sa Japan or Korea, depende nalang kung ano yun opportunity na dadating sakin.”
Despite being a hopeless romantic (“I’m not taken pero may someone na gusto kong ibigay yung love ko”) and a self-confessed K-pop and K-drama fan (he loves TWICE’s Nayeon and Momo), Nic thinks beyond his age of 19. The junior Marketing Management student knows the critical importance of taking the exposure and the influence that he has garnered in basketball, and amplifying it to any number of ends. “Someday, I wanna have a business to open up new opportunities for the Filipinos. Napapansin ko kasi sa society ngayon bumababa yung unemployment rate. Advocacy ko din with that simple help, matupad yun. Gusto ko mag-open ng charity in case makuha ko yung goal ko.”
Joem Sabandal, Adamson Falcons
Gray Pullover, P899, H&M, Megamall. Blue Vest, P1499, IT'S VINTAGE (@itsvintagevintage).
Growing up in the province, Joem took inspiration from his own dad, who used to play basketball everyday. He certainly came a long way, now revered as one of Adamson’s top players alongside national star Jerom Lastimosa. “I’m honored. Malaki siyang role for me kasi senior na ‘ko so kailangan umayos ako, kailangan i-guide rookies namin. Isa ‘ko sa mga titingnan nila so need ko ipakita sa kanila ano dapat kong gawin,” he said.
The graduating Marketing Management student raves about the wonders of going off the grid for the team, especially when building their camaraderie. “Yung mga out of town games namin, wala kami sa comfort zone and di kami sanay sa mga lugar na walang signal. So less phone, more time with your teammates. Nag-Siargao kami, Davao. Super fun.”
He shares that he likes reading inspirational books during his free time, as well as going on food and coffee trips with his loved ones. He is also game to explore modeling and showbiz if an opportunity will present itself. “Well, di ko naman winawala yung mga opportunities. Depende sa resulta ng shoot na ‘to,” he jokes. “Set naman ako sa basketball na yun goal ko, pero why not if may chance, diba? Mas maganda yung malawak yung options. Iniisip ko right now is to finish strong in the UAAP and to get my diploma.”
Produced by: Yssa Cardona
Co-produced by: Cheska Santiago and Leika Golez
Art direction by: Bacs Arcebal and Pau Moyano
Photographed by: Renzo Navarro, Assisted by: Alexis Wang
Styling by: Than Supresencia, Assisted by: Justine Guerrero and Daryl Reine Del Castillo
Grooming by: Muriel Vega Perez and Team MVP
Filmed by: Richford Unciano and Greeko Junio
Vintage jerseys by: STATS Technical Apparel
Written by: Cass Lazaro
Special Thanks to: Virtual Playground Global and Jessica Jane Sanchez
Disclaimer: UAAP players from the Far Eastern University were also invited to take part in the Candy Cuties feature but couldn’t join the shoot due to unforeseen circumstances.