Third break could be the charm for Kent State’s Galal Cancer

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Bushels of ballplayers land second chances. Galal Cancer is one of the precious few to nail a third.

SATURDAY ON ASN: Kent State at Cleveland State, 3:30 p.m. (click logo for local listings)

First, the quirky part: The Kent State guard is a Kent State guard today thanks largely to an Ivy League rule. The conference prohibits graduate students from participating in intercollegiate athletics, even if said graduate student has a year of NCAA eligibility left to burn.

“Some people wished I could stay in the league,” said Cancer, who graduated from Cornell this past spring, which effectively put the kibosh on his time with the Big Red in the process. “And you know, I looked at it as an opportunity to play at a higher level or play at a different environment.”

A point guard his first two seasons in Ithaca, N.Y., Cancer his found his feet — and his mojo — in Northeastern Ohio as a wing/combo threat, connecting on six of 13 3-point tries while averaging 5.6 points, 2.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds for the Flashes (3-2).

“I kind of just needed to use this last year to get away,” said Cancer, one of four transfers with Division I experience for Kent State, which visits Cleveland State (2-5) Saturday on ASN. “I wanted to play in a more impressive conference than the Ivy League.

“So when Kent reached out to me and I went on a visit, I really connected with the coaching staff and the players. I feel with myself, we would have a great chance to win the (Mid-American Conference) this year, as well as (having) the opportunity to get my masters in sports management and recreation. It met my goals on both sides, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for myself.”

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the second quirky bit. After his sophomore season with the Big Red, Cancer, a wunderkind out of Albany, N.Y., was told that eight credits wouldn’t be carrying over from his prep days. Rather than cram to make up the class time over the next two years, he walked away from basketball to take more credit hours as a junior.

“It was definitely hard,” Cancer recalled. “Especially because some of the basketball players were guys that I lived with, and it was tough seeing those guys play and struggle the way (they) did.”

While the Big Red limped to a 2-26 record in 2013-’14 — the loss of leading scorer Shonn Miller to a shoulder injury didn’t help matters — Cancer hit the books and hit the gym.

“When I had any free time, I was working on things I needed to work on,” he recalled. “Primarily, my 3-point shooting, working on my form.”

Usually, it was five days a week, a minimum of two hours per night, jumper after jumper. The grind paid off: In the two seasons before his hiatus, Cancer had drained just 12 of 46 attempts from beyond the arc (26.1%); in the two years since, he’s 30 for his last 76 (39.5%).

Academics aligned, Cancer approached Cornell coach Bill Courtney after the season about returning to the squad for his senior year. Courtney extended a lifeline, but only if the guard completed a series of steps first.

“It was definitely different,” Cancer said. “I like Coach (Courtney). Coming out of high school, I felt we had some good pieces. But it definitely wasn’t what I’d pictured it being. I’m grateful for the opportunity; it allowed me to be the man I am today.”

Graduation allowed a shot at free agency, chance to play the dating game over again — only this time with the added benefit of hindsight. George Mason, Santa Clara, St. Peter’s, Iona, Fordham, Siena, Albany, East Carolina all reached out at some point, Cancer recalled. But in the final tally, Kent State offered the best combo of everything, the best shot to prove that the third time really IS the charm.

“Especially after that first process, I kind of wished I could do that one again,” Cancer said. “I did an early decision coming out of high school, so it was an amazing opportunity to have that chance to start the recruiting process all over.”


Above: Galal Cancer is finding a third wind with Kent State. (Courtesy of David Dermer/Kent State Athletics)