ORLANDO – Run your own race.
That’s been the life motto for Orlando Magic guard Devin Cannady.
Whether it’s been being overlooked for junior all-star teams, failing to get recruited by top college basketball programs in his own backyard, going undrafted, or getting injured right after receiving his first chance to play in the NBA, the 6-foot-2 Indiana native has always found ways to overcome the obstacles in front of him and achieve his goals.
Cannady had the opportunity to speak about those accomplishments and share his inspirational life story with children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida as part of the Pepsi Stronger Together and Orlando Magic summer program on Monday.
“We had a great program today where the kids were vulnerable and asking questions,” Cannady explained. “I was able to tell my story, share how unique my story was, but how it relates to exactly what everyone goes through.”
For the second straight year, Pepsi Stronger Together – PepsiCo’s nationwide series of grassroots initiatives and community-tailored programming – has partnered with the Magic, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, and the Close The Gap (CTG) Foundation to host an eight-week mentorship program for local youth.
"We were so happy to have Devin be able to talk today about his journey of perseverance and how he overcame adversity," said Elisa Baker, Senior Director and Head Of Multicultural Brand Communications + Community Engagement for PepsiCo. "He chose the right path of following education, which also helped his basketball goals. I couldn't think of a better person or NBA player to be here today to talk to our kids about driving for what they want."
Along with delivering messages about making good decisions, setting goals, and surrounding yourself with the right people, he spoke about different steps on his life's journey. After all, nothing has been easy for the 26-year-old, but he’s always managed to achieve the unthinkable. And he delivered that message in a resounding way to the approximately 30 children on hand.
His first tale was about being left off a junior all-star team and having to read through all the names of the kids who made the squad on Twitter. Instead of being overwhelmed by disappointment and giving up on his goals, he responded by working hard and not only making the team next year, but also becoming that game’s Most Valuable Player.
He then went into detail about his desire to go to Notre Dame or one of the other traditional college basketball powerhouses but failing to get recruited by any of them. Instead, he leaned on his academic success, went to Princeton University – a prestigious Ivy League school – and developed not only as a player over a storied four-year career, but also as a man.
While hopeful to hear his name called on draft night, the five-time Ivy League Player of the Week went undrafted. He subsequently fought and clawed his way through the G League for three seasons, eventually helping Lakeland win a championship and being named G League Finals MVP. That success resulted in Cannady receiving a contract with Lakeland’s parent club.
But shortly into his Magic tenure, the guard suffered a devastating injury. In a game at Amway Center against the Indiana Pacers – his hometown team – and with a number of his family members in attendance, Cannady landed awkwardly after contesting a shot and suffered a gruesome open fracture of his right ankle.
Forced to leave on a stretcher, it was fair to question if a player that had to fight so hard to get to the league would ever be able to overcome that type of injury and make it back. But that’s exactly what the determined Cannady was able to accomplish.
“Going through these things has molded me and helped me grow along the way,” he explained. “I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without the setbacks, without the obstacles, (and) the struggles. Whether that’s my injury (or) whether that’s been grinding in the G League the past three years.”
On March 31, 2022, less than a year after his injury, Cannady returned to the Magic on a 10-day contract. And after appearing in five games, averaging 10 points per contest and shooting 40.5 percent from long-range, Cannady was awarded with a two-year deal this offseason.
“It was emotional, and I didn’t expect it to be,” said Cannady, who said he was brought to tears when presented with the news of the contract offer. “I thought I would be jumping up for joy and extremely happy, which obviously I was, but I think it really hit me, the gravity of what I had gone through for the past three years, for the past ten years. Being told constantly over, and over again, ‘you’re not good enough,’ (and) ‘you’re too small,’ whatever it is. The injury, specifically. Overcoming that alone and being healthy was so emotional. But having the faith and the belief of (Magic President of Basketball Operations) Jeff (Weltman) and (General Manager) John (Hammond), and coach (Jamahl) Mosley, the organization, to give me one of these fifteen spots and feel like I’ve earned it and that I do something – my shooting specifically – that can keep me on the court and to play, that gave me a lot of confidence and was also super rewarding.”
It’s just all about running your own race.
“I found strength in that phrase, knowing that everyone’s journey is different,” he said. “I’m not the guy who got draft thirtieth, let alone one. There are plenty of undrafted guys like me. A lot of my mentors in the past have talked about not letting the outside noise cloud your judgement whether that’s making financial decisions, whether that’s in your own career, or life. So, that’s what ‘run your own race’ came from. … It’s been the foundation of my belief system ever since.”
Thanks to his work with the Magic, Pepsi Stronger Together, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, and the CTG Foundation, it’s a positive message that’s not only impacting Cannady but others as well.