Next time you're cheering on the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team, you may start watching the game a little bit differently. As much as the players are battling on the court, it's nothing compared to some of the deeper challenges these guys have faced in their day-to-day lives.
Take Ivan Canete for instance. He is easily the Lumberjacks best shooter and leading scorer, averaging double figures. There's also more behind the 40, three-pointers Canete has sunk this year.
Those three-pointers used to be his dad's favorite shot to watch his son make, until Canete's father died from cancer when he was just 16 years old.
Although Canete’s dad isn't filling up a stadium seat, he believes his guardian angel is still watching over him from the best seat in the house.
“Adversity makes us stronger and this kid has gone through a lot of it at young age,” said SFA head basketball coach, Kyle Keller. “That's why I think he's the leader that he is.”
He makes it look easy, but Canete's journey to SFA has been far from that.
Born in Cuba, Canete didn't come to America until he was five years old. Learning English was the first of many hurdles ahead of him.
“I remember when I had to learn English. I was in ESL classes because I didn't know any English, so I had to learn how to read and write in English and I had trouble speaking it,” said Canete.
The start to a better life was all because of his father who shares his name, Ivan Canete. His dad risked it all for his family by boarding a boat to leave all they knew behind, in order to set sail to a land of opportunity.
“He was a hard working guy and whenever I feel like I’m doing something hard, I just think about him and my mom. They've always been hardworking,” said Canete.
“His dad, talk about a tough guy. He leaves his country and gets on a boat basically to escape Cuba and come here to the United States so he can find a better life for his family. He may be the toughest guy we know,” said Keller.
Years later, the tough guy role was swapped all too soon. At just 16 year's old, life made Canete the man of his household for his mother and sister when his dad passed away from cancer.
“I had a role thrown on me I wasn't ready for,” said Canete. “Now when I think about it, it must have been so hard for my mom and she never really showed any weakness. She just kept being strong. I know during the time I really was having a hard time with it and I still have some hard times with it even now.”
Although the grief never fully goes away, Canete has overcome a sadness that at one point consumed him so much, that his passion for basketball cease to exist.
“I didn't want to play basketball anymore. I got depressed again about my dad and I took the year off and found myself a little bit,” said Canete.
In finding himself, a big part of who he is, is basketball. All it took was stepping on the court one more time, and the rest is history.
“I started playing again and fell in love with basketball again,” said Canete. “I use basketball to get away from it all, but even then I think about my dad every day. It was hard but basketball is an outlet for me.”
The game became therapeutic, and his triumph over depression came with holding nothing back whether it be on the hardwood or in his heart.
“Honestly, it was just talking about my feelings and what was going on because me, I like to keep stuff in and I like to deal with it myself, but it didn't work out. Talking about my feelings is what helped me get better,” said Canete.
“Ivan's an energy giver in my opinion. I think most people that are resilient and tough, are going to be energy givers,” said Keller. “Most people who have gone through adversity and survived, grow stronger and that's who Ivan Canete is.”
Following his father's footsteps, Canete left all he knew behind in Florida. That included leaving all his family and friends, only to gain a second family here in Nacogdoches.
“Unfortunately his father passes away and now we have him as a young adult. I think not only myself but I think the rest of our staff feels like it's our job to take him from young adulthood to manhood, and continue to teach him what lessons his father and mother have taught him to this point. We take that role very seriously,” said Keller.
“When I came here I really liked the family atmosphere. It's an honor to put the jersey on and have the SFA across my chest because of all the people that have been here and the culture here. It's really a privilege,” said Canete. “I just feel like I want to make him proud. I feel like if he was here, he would be proud of me and I just want to continue to make him proud of my family.”
Lumberjack fans have a chance to cheer on Canete and the team for their big game on Thursday against Lamar.
You can cheer along with Canete’s dad, every time he hits a three-pointer.
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