Born to coach: Lawrence's Malaquias Canery takes over NECC women

·5 min read

Aug. 5—Malaquinas Canery, the basketball player, never really found his place in his favorite sport.

Sure there were moments.

He started in all 25 games as a freshman at Clarkson University, as the point guard.

Then, at least the playing time, went downhill from there, averaging just over five points over his four years.

"Me and my coach were not on the same page," said Canery, who was recently named the new women's basketball coach at Northern Essex Community College. "My role and what we were trying to do as a team."

While he played four years, limited minutes the last few years, it was during those tough times, which also included a torn ACL, that Canery realized he had a calling.

"My love for the game never wavered," said Canery, who turns 26 in September. "It was like it was growing up and playing at the Lawrence Boys Club. It was part of my soul."

During those tough days at Clarkson, even when he wasn't playing much he would run practice sessions on the side, even for guys playing ahead of him.

"My passion for the game, playing and practicing with energy, was my thing," said Canery. "I loved pushing my teammates to be better. I wasn't really concerned about where I was as a player. I enjoyed helping other guys get better. I pretty much realized, I was probably a coach at heart."

Several years later, Coach Canery has pretty much put a stamp on his time at Clarkson and has devoted his working life to teaching basketball to those who want to get better.

It was something he remembers feeling at the famed Academic Basketball Awareness Camp at Merrimack College, created and hosted by Bert Hammel, who passed away nearly four years ago.

"When it came to basketball and people, Bert was the most genuine person I had ever seen," recalled Canery. "His energy for the game was real. His energy for helping kids was real. It always stayed with me. I wanted to be like Bert Hammel."

Canery left Lawrence after middle school and attended Clinton High in N.Y., as part of The Better Start program, which was created by Hamilton College.

It was the first time he remembers have structure, 24/7, in his life.

"I was all over the place as a kid, not focused at all," said Canery. "That program saved me. The basketball was good, too. I learned so much about the game. When you grow up on the playgrounds, you just play and react. But in high school I got a real lesson about the game, as a point guard, running an offense, seeing the floor."

After college he returned to Lawrence connecting with former Lawrence High coach Paul Neal, who had helped Canery while growing up, and current coach Jesus "Moose" Moore. He did some one-on-one work with local kids while also getting his real estate license.

One of his lessons turned into an opportunity to work at the Pingree School Basketball Camp, under boys coach Steve Gibbs.

Gibbs was impressed with, of course, Canery's passion and energy.

"Mala is a pioneer in a every sense of the word," said Gibbs. "He marches to the beat of his drum. Most basketball people would say 'I wouldn't go around the world to coach' whereas Mala said, 'Why wouldn't I go Hoop Mountain in Kuwait, Dubai and Qatar.' It's why he has thrived.

It led an offer to work for Gibbs' side business, Hoop Mountain, which has clinics and camps in the Middle East.

He did a eight month-month stint coaching basketball in Kuwait before returning home.

"It was an amazing experience," said Canery. "Not only being in around culture, far from home, but being around people who wanted to learn the game like we do."

Canery returned home and was connected with Northern Essex Community College men's basketball coach, Darren Stratton, through a former teammate at Lawrence High, Jaylen Alicea, eventually joining the staff as an assistant.

He was with the team for the fall when another opportunity to start a basketball academy for Hoop Mountain ... in Qatar.

"I was there five months and really connected with a coach from Serbia, learning about its culture, how they view the game," said Canery. "I learned something new every day there. I was the head guy and loved every minute of it."

Gibbs said Canery made a different in both, far-away countries.

"He's introduced the game to hundreds of kids in the Middle East in such a positive fashion," said Gibbs. "Basketball interest is spreading in the Middle East due to Mala's coaching. Honestly, he is responsible for many Middle East kids choosing basketball as their first sport. His impact on the game in that region is so powerful. I can't tell you how many people thanked me for placing Mala overseas."

When he returned home early this past summer, there was another basketball offer, but this one was around here, an opportunity to stay home.

NECC was looking to upgrade several of its sports and women's basketball was among them. The school's athletic director, Dan Blair, and Coach Stratton, met with Canery hoping he'd take the job.

"Malaquias is a special guy and a very good coach," said Blair. "It was a good fit. We needed someone with a lot of energy to get this program going. He's also close with Coach Stratton, who he can rely on for support."

Canery has already started the recruiting process with phone calls and meetings at the school, trying to do for the women what Stratton has done for the men.

And what NECC baseball coach Jeff Mejia has done for baseball players.

"The goal here is education first," said Canery. "But we have a lot of talented girls basketball players in the area and we can help them improve on the court and in the classroom, and hopefully get to a four-year school. I love working with young people and helping them. This is a perfect job for me."