The Trials of Major Canady

​Photo: The Triangle
(theempireofphilacollegebball.com)– Major Canady was dropping buckets. Not only was he attacking the basket with ferocity, like he always did, but Canady was stroking the ball too. For so long Canady had been labeled as a poor shooter. Former Drexel coach Bruiser Flint would show Canady clips from his freshman year, when defenders would leave him wide open, asking him to shoot. But not any longer.He had finally developed a sweet stroke. It wouldn’t be long before the rest of the CAA would see the new, refined, and dominant Major Canady.

He was a year removed from a season-ending ankle injury just before his sophomore year that had only motivated him more, as he worked relentlessly over the time to better his game. Canady lived in the gym, often shooting with Drexel assistant coach Matt Collier. He reaped the benefits and was starting to look like a more complete player.

In the humid Philadelphia summer before his junior year, Canady was showing off his polished stroke in a pickup game with his teammates, including Rodney Williams. Canady went up for a layup, when a teammate made slight contact.

“He was like ‘I felt something pop, I felt something pop,’” Williams remembered Canady saying. “We were like ‘why don’t you try and walk it off and see if you can deal?’ He tried to walk it off and he said it was just really bothering him.”

Over the next few weeks and months, Canady attempted to give it a go. Sitting out the year was not an option. He thought he could play and tough it out. But he re-aggravated the injury a few days before the season began and this pushed him over the edge. Three to four months after his initial injury, Canady opted to have surgery on a torn ACL.

What resulted was his second season-ending injury in a row.

***

Growing up in Wilson, North Carolina, a small city in the eastern part of the state, Canady was the definition of an athlete. In middle school, he was a star basketball, soccer, and football player. Soccer, however, was where Canady thrived from day one.

Many around Canady thought that soccer would eventually earn him a Division 1 scholarship. It took until the movie Like Mike came out for Canady to fall for basketball. As a kid, he would attend Fike High School’s basketball games, where his mom worked.

“I just remember watching the kids that play varsity all of the time and I would be like ‘I want to be like them one day,’” Canady said. “So I would always watch the moves they did and I would go to their practices sometimes. I learned a lot from the older guys.”

Throughout high school, Canady bounced around. He started at Fike, where he experienced some success his freshman season and was promoted to varsity after only a few junior varsity games. But he decided that he didn’t want to go to a school where his mom taught. He wanted to be “independent.” So he transferred to Hunt High School across town in Wilson. The transition wasn’t easy.

“It wasn’t the best season [after I transferred to Hunt],” Canady said. “You always have to earn your stripes.”

While Canady thought about his next steps, his father, Darryl Canady, a pastor, had received a job offer in Pittsburgh. Before they even left North Carolina, the family began to look for a new AAU team. After a few phone calls, they got in touch with Daryn Freedman, who had worked in the NBA and as a recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at Duquesne University. By then, Freeman was coaching AAU and was the head coach at a local boarding school, The Kiski School. After his workout, Canady made a good impression and Freedman offered him a spot on his AAU and Kiski team.

The thought of Canady moving out of the house was daunting to his parents. The school would be thirty minutes away and attending private school had never really been on the family’s radar. Canady, however, liked the idea of going to Kiski.

Canady was intrigued by reclassifying, the concept of repeating a grade and adding another year of basketball eligibility in high school. The family ultimately wrapped their head around the idea and Canady enrolled at Kiski as a sophomore.

Freedman was happy. He had found himself a backup to Jon Ward-Adams, a Navy commit who had transferred to Kiski as a postgraduate student after averaging 20 points per game and earning all-state honors at his previous school. With Canady coming off the bench, Freedman felt he had a solid backcourt.

Canady arrived in June, ready to play for Freedman’s AAU team. He helped lead the team to victories over many of the nation’s top AAU programs, including one led by future NBA player, T.J. Warren. It quickly became clear that Canady was much more than a role player. He wouldn’t be a backup at Kiski. Canady was ready to start.

From the very start, Canady thrived at Kiski. He was voted a captain by his teammates before he even stepped on the floor.

“A. He outworks everyone,” Freedman said of how a guy could be named captain in his first year at the school. “B. He’s vocal about it and guys follow. He’s really easy to follow.”

During his high school years, Canady’s focus shifted from soccer to basketball. While he still played on the soccer team, he did it only during the actual season. Basketball was year around. The practice paid off. On the basketball court, Canady blew up, helping Kiski become one of the country’s most recognizable programs.

In his final year at the school, he helped lead Kiski to a 23-7 record and a state championship appearance while averaging 21 points per game, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists. Stats didn’t show just how complete of a player he had become. He would guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, run the offense, understand everyone’s roles and spots, and if there was a 50-50 ball, Canady would get it. According to Freedman, he was like Boston Celtics’ guard Marcus Smart.

“[Major] makes the hustle play to win you the game,” Freedman added. “He’s a winner.”

From the get-go, Drexel, and specifically assistant coach Collier, stayed glued to Canady. The Drexel staff had recruited another player from Kiski one or two years prior and were familiar with the program. They also knew that they would need a point guard to step in with star point guard Frantz Massenat set to leave the following season. The plan was for Canady to learn under Massenat in his freshman season and then take over duties as lead ball handler the next year.

Canady committed to the University of South Florida (USF) in the summer of 2012. But he quickly had second thoughts and decommitted. Drexel came calling once again.

Throughout the process, Canady formed an unbreakable bond with two people: coach Collier and fellow recruit Rodney Williams.

Collier was designated as the primary recruiter of Canady. When Canady decommitted from USF, Collier instantly messaged him. Collier and fellow assistant Bobby Jordan even went to one of Canady’s soccer games when it was close by.

Williams and Canady also created a rapport from the start. After Williams took his visit at Drexel, Canady sent him a message and introduced himself. It turns out that they were both pastor’s kids.

“We kind of had this instant bond like ‘oh you’re a [pastor’s kid], so am I,’” Williams remembered from his initial conversation with Canady. “I guess the coaches plugged his ear saying ‘we just had a kid come here who was a pastor’s son as well.’”

They hit it off and soon decided that they would spend their next four years together at Drexel. Even before they got to Philadelphia, they started playing Xbox and texting each other every day.

“It was a kind of like an instant marriage once we had a similarity of religion and things we dealt with as pastor’s children,” Williams said. “And so, going into college, knowing I would have someone. That was one of the reasons I chose Drexel.”

Williams and Canady grew so close that their commitment was contingent on them rooming together. Still though, they had never even met each other in person.

“The day we had to move in [freshman year], we’re texting each other like ‘you almost there?’” Williams remembered. “We pulled up our cars next to each other and Major texts me and says, ‘I see you.’ And I just start laughing. It was funny because you have guys that have formed a bond, formed a friendship, but never met each other. Everything was smooth, it was just like I knew him, without even meeting him.”

Williams and Canady began their college career walking into their dorm together. They didn’t know just how much the next four years would hold.

***

When the player rolled over him, Canady’s ankle was showing through the skin.

“A lot of players were gasping and covering their eyes,” coach Collier remembered. “We had some managers that were in tears. It was tough. Maybe the only one who wasn’t crying was Major.”

Canady was coming off a promising freshman season. While he began the year as the backup point guard, just like the coaching staff had envisioned, an injury to Damion Lee forced him into the starting lineup. Canady became a stabilizing force; someone that the team could rely on to handle the ball and lock up the other team’s opposing guards.

“We felt comfortable that he could do that and that’s what he did,” Collier said. “His job was to defend and take care of the ball and kind of organize the team and things like that, which we felt for a freshman, he did very well. He was a very mature kid.”

He appeared in all 30 games his freshman year, starting in 14, while averaging 16 minutes per game, 2.1 points, 1.7 rebounds, .9 assists, and compiling only 17 total turnovers. After Massenat and Chris Fouch left the following year, Canady was expected to start and fully take over the point guard duties. He spent the entire summer getting ready. As preseason workouts came around, he was ready to go and take a big step forward. That hope vanished in a matter of seconds.

The team was doing the shell drill in a preseason practice and everyone had been broken up into three teams of four. Both Williams and Collier stood on the sideline as Canady dove for a loose ball when a teammate landed on top of him. The teammate turned over and the entire team saw the effects. The managers were instantly sent down to get the trainer. No one in the gym knew what to say. But Canady wasn’t worried about that or his ankle. He had a practice left to finish.

“I would say this is Major Canady in a nutshell,” Collier said. “He hits the ground, the person falls on top of him, the person rolls over, everyone sees that Major’s foot is not on straight anymore. Everybody is reacting to this. He looks down at it. He scoots over to the sideline…His foot is back on straight. He stood up and tried to put weight on it and walk back onto the court, saying ‘ok I’m ready to practice now.’ Coach Flint and myself were like, ‘yo yo man, go sit down…’ He didn’t cry, nothing.”

This was Canady’s first major injury. He was used to being the guy who could play a full basketball game and then run around on a soccer field for 90 minutes in one day. A sprained ankle was the only injury that had ever held him back, and that was maybe for a game or two in high school.

“I never knew what it felt like to be hurt,” Canady remembered. “So when they told me I was going to miss the season I started crying in the training room and then I went up to practice that same day and started crying all over again. It was like a weird experience. The guys know me as a serious, chill guy, they never really see me show too many emotions, definitely not sad ones. So, it was different. I was devastated honestly.”

For the next year, Canady was a man on a mission — he was going to come back much better than he had been before. That started with shooting. Canady spent the next several months perfecting his shooting form. For a large chunk of time, jumping wasn’t an option, but that didn’t stop Canady from shooting. He would spend a lot of time doing the Curry Drill with Collier, a drill that Stephen Curry did during his warmups. Collier had read about it in Sports Illustrated and tweaked it for his own players. It required Canady to make a high percentage of shots from each of the five sections of the floor (two on the baseline, two on the wing, one on the top of the key). If he missed the mark at any point, he would have to start over.

“It definitely helped him focus and it entertained him a little bit. We would do the drill from a standstill perspective, so now you really don’t have as much room for error because you can’t jump,” Collier said. “You really have to bend your knees and follow through to get as much stretching to get the ball to the rim. It really forced him to concentrate on those details to make the shots.”

The hardest part for Collier was keeping Canady in check and making sure that he didn’t get too carried away with the progress he was making.

“We would do workouts for his rehab and I would say ‘yes we can go do some form shooting, but you’re not going to be jumping,’” Collier added. “And then if I turn my head for a second, he might try to jump and I might catch him and be like ‘what are you doing?’ and he would be like, ‘but I feel good!’”

He felt good enough to start playing pick up again. And it was in one of those summer pickup games that he went down again, tearing his ACL. This would mean another long year of sitting out and rehabbing.

***

If Drexel had a 7PM game, Canady would usually have two classes earlier in the day. He would pray in his room and then lie upside down with his foot against the wall and ice on his knee for twenty minutes. That would be followed by sitting in the locker room with a heating pad on his knee and then stretching for 10-15 minutes before the entire team even stretched.

During the 2016-17 season, Major Canady played 21 games and every single one required the same grueling process. After enduring two season-ending injuries, he finally found a way back on the court. But this year might have been the hardest physically.

In every game or practice that Canady featured in throughout this past season, he did so without an ACL. He had two options: it was either play without an ACL or receive surgery and miss another season. He wasn’t going to miss another season.

In the past, Canady had struggled when he was injured. They left him playing “mental gymnastics,” as Williams said. He would fall into bad states, where he would just stay in his room. Williams and the team would often go to the movies and they always encouraged Canady to come with them.

“He kind of distanced himself from the team a little, trying to be to himself, trying to figure out what’s going on,” added Williams. “And I know we tried as a team to just keep him together, rally around him. But it’s easy for us to say that.”

Canady decided that this injury was going to be different. He was going to play and he wasn’t going to let it get to him like it had before. He was going to tough this one out. Thanks to his abnormally strong lower body, he was able to make that happen.

On December 18, 2016, after three long years, Canady finally returned to the court in a game against Kean University, a D3 school that would win only one game during that year.

​Canady does not like to consider this his first game, instead opting to call Drexel’s game against D1, Northeastern University on January 2, as his “real” first game back. That night, Canady logged 17 minutes and had 3 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals in a tough 5-point overtime loss. But as he played alongside Williams and his other teammates in a tight battle, he once again felt the true joy of basketball.

Canady battled his way through the entire season though most people didn’t know much of what he was going through. From the outside looking in, Canady appeared fine. He had healed and he was playing valuable minutes. No one knew he was missing an ACL and in constant pain. But everyone inside Drexel knew just how much he was going through.

“He could have just said, ‘I’m going to get the surgery and try again,’” Williams said. “But he said ‘I’m going work through this one,’ once the doctor gave him the option of wearing a brace to get through the season…He was not going to check out like before.”

On Drexel’s 2017 Senior Day, Canady walked out onto the court with Williams, Mohamed Bah, John Moran, and Elgin Ford, Jr. in his final home game at the school. Fans and sports commentators wondered why Canady was out there. What were his next steps? Did he have two more years of eligibility? Was he done wearing the Blue and Gold? What they didn’t know was that it was more complicated than that.

Canady still didn’t have an ACL and surgery would be ideal, but that would mean another entire missed season. Another year of working extremely hard through constant pain to get back on the floor. Another year of risking more injuries. He had learned from his mistakes.

On April 27 2017, Canady endured his third surgery in his four years at Drexel. The difference was that he wouldn’t be rushing back this time. Instead, Canady decided to take the next year off from basketball and focus on getting healthy. He signed up for a practicum at Villanova where he will be an “assistant’s assistant,” while using the perks of being a college athlete to earn his Master’s degree in Sports Coaching Leadership from Drexel at the same time. If his body heals and he still feels the desire to play college basketball during the time, he will transfer and play his sixth year at another school. If not, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Canady perusing the sidelines on a regular basis, especially with his degree.

***

Major Canady wore a white button down dress shirt with a tie as he walked into the not-so-elegant Chick-fil-A express in Drexel’s North Dining Terrace. He was thick and strong. He looked like he should be playing safety or running back somewhere, but in reality, his football dreams had ended before high school.

The West Philadelphia campus was bustling with action and energy today. Summer and graduation were right around the corner and everyone seemed anxious for the school year to be over.

It was lunchtime, but unlike the rest of the campus, the Chick-fil-A felt like an escape from frantic busyness going outside. Or maybe it was just Canady’s aura.

There was no line and Canady took his time. He flashed the smile that had earned him some votes in a Drexel athletics’ YouTube segment, “who on Drexel MBB most likely to be president?” while chatting up the workers behind the counter preparing his food. When Canady arrived at the cash register, he looked back and saw two people in line behind him.

“Those two are with me,” he said, handing the cashier his card to pay for the food.

No one in the store or in line could tell that the man with the warm persona had just had surgery a month and a half ago. They couldn’t tell that he had played an entire basketball season without an ACL. They couldn’t tell that he had gone through unimaginable bouts of sadness.

But that’s the way Canady wants it to be. He doesn’t want people to feel bad for him.

“People are battling cancer and people are losing family members,” Canady said. “You know, the guy [John Davis] from Towson was shot in the leg. It could always be a lot worse and there are people who would trade positions with you in a heartbeat.”

​Photo: The Triangle

Editor: Benjamin Simon

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