Tigers coach Manansala glad to acquire Fil-Am big man Gani Stevens

University of Santo Tomas head coach Jinino Manansala heaved a sigh of relief after securing the commitment of Filipino-American dual sport athlete Gani Stevens.

Gani Stevens (Photo from MaxPreps.com)

Manansala actually learned the news that Stevens had committed hours prior to the Growling Tigers’ 96-67 defeat against the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City Thursday, April 28.

“Mixed emotions,” said Manansala. “Si Gani kasi nakita ko na yan last 2021. Nag-send sakin ng video. ‘Yong bata marunong gumalaw sa ilalim tapos kaliwete kaya mahirap siyang bantayan kaya kailangan pa rin naming siyang tutukan.”

The Tigers mentor added that Gani already experienced university tour with his family and soon-to-be teammates though he is currently back in Minnesota.

Gani, standing at 6-foot-7, had suited up both for the American football and basketball teams of Minnesota’s North Community High School.

Manansala said being a two-sport athlete will be an advantage for Gani knowing the physicality and play style of basketball in the UAAP and in the Philippines.

He is set to graduate from senior high school this year and will be eligible in Season 85.

“Malaking bagay si Stevens kasi sila Dave (Ando) at (Christian) Manaytay makakapagpahinga, puwede ko sila ilagay sa fourth spot (power forward),” added Manansala, whose team will face neighbor school Far Eastern University on Sunday, May 1 for their last game in the eliminations.

The Tigers, holding a 3-10 record, are already eliminated of the playoff contention.

“Si Gani banger na e. Nakita ko ‘yong bata talagang may potential the same time football player kaya sanay sa banggaan. Excited na akong makarating siya para ma-train naming nang maayos at makapag-adatp sa Philippine style of basketball.”

A report by Tiebreaker Times bared that the 18-year-old Stevens chose UST because of his desired course in Physical Therapy, an undergraduate degree program offered by the university.