Yet again, Aldin Ayo has to prove himself.
Yes, the first and only back-to-back NCAA and UAAP champion coach needs to prove he deserves the spot he’s standing in.
That spot? Engineer of the Philippines’ latest vehicle to reach the Olympics by way of 3×3.
Of course, eyebrows raised after seeing a mentor — who had just received an indefinite suspension from his former league — now calls the shots for the country’s sole team in the FIBA 3×3 Pro Circuit.
Ayo, though, is keeping his eyes on the prize. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. As for me, I love this game, I love what I’m doing. I’m not going to stop this,” he shared as he embarks on his first voyage with Manila Chooks in the 2021 FIBA 3×3 World Tour Doha Masters on March 26 and 27.
“I believe I can help, especially because this is the first time I’m representing our country. Malaking bagay ‘yung nandun na ‘yung flag. Iba na ‘pag flag and country ang pinaglalaban.”
A winner anywhere and everywhere, this will still be the first time the 43-year-old has the Philippine flag emblazoned on his uniform.
This means that, for him, training Manila Chooks is a milestone.
Even more, this means that he still has a job and he still has people believing in him after the year he went through in 2020.
Does Aldin Ayo deserve it, though?
He himself is here to prove his believers right — and, while he never cared about them, to prove his doubters wrong.
That is exactly what he has done again and again from his days in Sorsogon to his time in Manila.
Still, before him is the biggest mountain he has had to climb.
It has been almost a year since Ayo found himself in the middle of a controversy that woke up the sports world that had been slumbering due to the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
He allegedly oversaw a training camp in his hometown for University of Sto. Tomas, despite travel restrictions as well as uncertainties regarding schooling itself.
In that so-called ‘Bicol Bubble,’ it was alleged that Ayo had to justify to his players that their actions were necessary because they needed priming for another run at Ateneo de Manila University — with the Growling Tigers as the most legitimate threat to the Blue Eagles’ dynasty.
When the whistle was blown, he needed to established that nothing unethical had taken place — his players were actually there for summer jobs on his farm.
The UAAP dropped the ax of an indefinite suspension over his head, despite government agencies finding no fault in what he did. Ayo then protested that their disciplinary action was ‘not appropriate.’
“Sa ngayon, lahat naman tayo, nag-aantay pa rin. I’m patiently waiting for the result of my appeal. Basta sa akin naman, I’ve done my part,” he answered when asked for an update.
With that, having fallen from grace once more, he has to prove that not only can he still get the job done, but that he deserves to get a job in the first place.
Good thing then that as Aldin Ayo tries to rise from the ashes for the nth time, his team mirrors his image for the nth time.
Make no mistake, Manila Chooks is out to prove itself.
As a program, it has to earn the trust of the Philippines and Filipinos as their international representative.
Not only that, but it also has to show Bounty Agro Ventures, Inc. that it is worth the trouble — especially since it serves as the barometer for the health of Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3×3, the country’s first and only professional 3×3 league.
And most definitely, the players carry chips on their shoulders. “All these players have been given another opportunity. ‘Yun ang malaking bagay na pwedeng panghawakan ng mga players,” expressed Ayo.
“Seldom lang magkaroon ng second chance. They are all motivated to prove they can still play.”
Chico Lanete, the lone veteran, is out to affirm that he still has it not just in 3×3, but in basketball.
Mac Tallo is out to show he deserves yet another break.
Zachy Huang is out to prove he deserves to get a shot.
Dennis Santos wants to show that he is much, much more than just that surprising name in that Philippine team.
And their coach? Well, let it be repeated that Ayo has to prove himself yet again — especially in a sport he has no experience in.
“When I was first contacted by Chooks, sabi ko talaga, I have to think it over kasi ‘di ko pa alam ano meron sa 3×3,” he recalled.
“After some review and reflection, sabi ko, pwede pala ‘to ha. Malaking bagay rin ‘to for me kasi may matututunan na naman akong bago rito. ‘Yun naman palagi ang target ko, personal growth.”
While he is a relative newcomer in 3×3, he is as seasoned as they come in terms of proving himself.
This isn’t his first time trying to rise from the ashes.
The very moment Aldin Ayo stepped foot in Manila, he had to introduce himself.
Literally, he had to introduce himself.
An unknown after being hired by Colegio de San Juan de Letran, he had a tough time getting into the Intramuros-based school for his first practice. “Hindi pa talaga nila ako kilala. Last week, hindi ako pinapasok sa gym. (This week) naman, hindi ako pinapasok sa parking lot,” he narrated then.
Interestingly, not only was he the Knights’ new head coach, he was actually a school hero as a student-athlete. He once hit the go-ahead layup in Game 1 of the Finals, which they eventually swept in NCAA Season 75.
It didn’t take long for all of Letran to get to know him, though. And it didn’t take long for the rest of the NCAA to learn all about the ‘Master of Mayhem.’
He rode his signature full-court press, Mark Cruz’s clutch genes, Kevin Racal’s versatility, Rey Nambatac’s growth, and the intangibles of Mcjour Luib, Felix Apreku, and Jom Sollano to a championship. All while toppling archrival and dynastic San Beda University (nee, College), in the process.
Not long after, however, he had to prove himself anew — to justify his decision to leave Letran right after raising banner no. 17.
Once he got to De La Salle University, he then had to demonstrate they wouldn’t regret missing out on their first choice. Yes — did you know that the Green Archers were actually eyeing one of Ayo’s coaching rivals for the post?
Ultimately, the job went to the young coach who had taken the NCAA by storm, but that wasn’t the end of it. He had to prove capable of leading a fully loaded — really, fully loaded — roster.
Let’s just ring off the names in that La Salle lineup that had just about everybody saying it was championship or bust for them: Ben Mbala, Jeron Teng, Aljun Melecio, Thomas Torres, Kib Montalbo, Abu Tratter, Ricci Rivero, Andrei Caracut, Prince Rivero, Justine Baltazar, Jason Perkins, Jollo Go, Julian Sargent, Brent Paraiso, and Mark Dyke.
Fast forward to the end of UAAP Season 79. There was Ayo, on the shoulders of Mbala and Baltazar, celebrating a promise fulfilled.
After mission accomplished in yet another school, the forever fiery Aldin Ayo desired a new fire.
And he found it in España.
Without a doubt, he led the return to relevance of University of Sto. Tomas.
The black and gold went 4-14 in the two years after making the UAAP Season 78 Finals.
In just their first year under Ayo, they won five games — and may have had more. They could have made it all the way to the Final Four, if then-super rookie CJ Cansino hadn’t torn his ACL.
Funny then that in 2020, if not for a misunderstanding-turned-miscommunication with Cansino, the Growling Tigers may very well have been the favorites to win it all rather than Ateneo, which had lost all of Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and Nieto twins Matt and Mike.
And so, a difference of opinion between the coaching staff-slash-team management and reportedly majority of the players led to the biggest what if in collegiate sports — what if that team Ayo had built brick-by-brick had just weathered that internal storm?
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. And unfortunately, Ayo had to exit the house he had rebuilt.
“They’re on their own. Ako, I’m unaffiliated with the school right now,” he expressed, also explaining that new UST mentor Jinino Manansala is independent of him.
There’s no telling yet where Ayo goes from here, but all this is nothing new to him.
He had fallen from grace last year. History says that sooner than later, he will rise once more.