One month and 22 practices after his shocking move to Taft Avenue, former Letran Knights head coach and current La Salle Green Archers mentor Aldin Ayo speaks about his transition and his assessment of his current team.
“Nakaka-miss sila pero life goes on,” Ayo said, as he was surrounded with his former squad during the Collegiate Basketball Awards held in Kamayan-Saisaki in EDSA-Greenhills last Wednesday night. The NCAA Season 91 Seniors Basketball Champions spoke with their former head coach for the majority of the night and reminisced about the good times of their run during the event.
Leaving the past behind, Ayo knows that he has a tougher task ahead: bringing the UAAP crown back to Taft Avenue. According to accounts of his players, the 38-year-old head coach has set the team’s training to as early as 5 o’clock in the morning, far from the late morning practices of the team’s past regime. The move has slowly been embraced by the Green Archers.
Ayo sees a lot of similarities between his former Letran team and his current La Salle squad. “Sa ilalim, sa small, actually each department meron just like Letran. Point guard namin Mark Cruz, wing namin Racal, and before niyo nakilala si Sollano e sa amin Sollano na talaga siya. And of course ang mga favorite ko, si McJour Luib and Felix Apreku,” he shared as he looked back on his time at Muralla Street. Moreover, he added that this Green Archers squad is an all-around squad that has the chance to win even in the most dirtiest of games, just like the the current NCAA Champions. “Whatever it takes. We can do it sa takbuhan, kung mananalo kami sa half court gagawin namin,” he said. “Kahit sa gapangan gagawin namin basta lang manalo.”
With 17 players training under him right now, Ayo broke down and analyzed each of his players. First up was the first recruit he had signed for De La Salle University, current De La Salle-Zobel stalwart Aljun Melecio. “Si Aljun Melecio. Sa Jr. NBA pa lang magkasama na kami. Nakanood ako ng game niya sa juniors, iba na ang laro niya. Nag-mature, grabe,” he said about incoming La Salle freshmen. “Si Melecio almost the same with Mark Cruz pero mas malaki yung katawan ni Aljun.”
Ayo, though, has a plethora of guards in his roster, with incoming super senior Thomas Torres and Kib Montalbo returning to the line-up. “Si Thomas Torres, Kib Montalbo babalik. We still have Jollo Go, Andrei Caracut, Renzo Navarro. Madami pa ring ‘minions’,” he quipped.
Besides Melecio, Ayo also confirmed that former La Salle Greenhills Greeny Ricci Rivero has also committed to an already-stacked Green Archers squad. “Parang Jerrick Balanza naman si Ricci. Nag-eensayo na rin siya pero maganda rin yung pinapakita ng bata,” he said about Prince Rivero’s younger brother. “Ang importante sa mga yan yung adjustment nila sa college. Nag-commit na sila kayla boss [Danding Cojuangco].”
Speaking of a Rivero, the Sorsogon City-native praised Ricci’s older brother for his workhorse ethic, saying, “Mag-iimprove din si Prince kasi masipag yun at maganda yung attitude.”
Another big man who is set to make his debut for the Green-and-White is former SWU Cobra Ben Mbala. Ayo admitted that he had been surprised with the work ethic of the foreign student-athlete, saying, “si Ben Mbala sobrang sipag. Very competitive and ayaw magpahinga. Yun yung tipong kelangan mo kontrolin kasi baka masobrahan palagi.”
When pressed about how Mbala is compared to NCAA behemoths Ola Adeogun, Bright Akhuetie, and Allwell Oraeme, Ayo believes Mbala can have a greater career than them because of his passion for the game. “Iba yung ibibigay ng Mbala e. Foreigner na ugaling Pinoy kung maglaro,” he said.
However, one Archer who is unsure of his return is stretch forward Jason Perkins. “Hefty Lefty” is currently playing for PBA D-League powerhouse Caida Tile Masters and, as early as last season, has been planning to move into the professional ranks according to some sources. “Kelangan ko pa makita si Jason Perkins kasi dalawang beses pa lang nag-eensayo. He committed to boss before,” Ayo said. But for the champion head coach, he will work with what he has right now. “Sa akin kung ano lang meron yun lang tratrabahuin ko.”
Even with a stacked line-up of blue chip recruits, Ayo still believes that King Archer Jeron Teng will still be the alpha of the team for next season. “Si Jeron, siya yung bridge ko sa mga players and he’s willing to sacrifice everything just to win,” Ayo said about Teng who he compared to Letran’s x-factor last season Luib. “Gusto manalo ng bata kasi last year na niya.”
He then warned that a different Teng will hit the floor next season, as he has drastically improved on the defensive end. “Same offense but very different on defense,” Ayo shared. “And he will distribute the ball more. He’s going to do everything for the team.”
With a perfect blend of big men and quick guards, Ayo has the luxury of mixing and matching his line-ups for the UAAP Season. However, he still gave a stern warning to the Archers that they need to take the practices seriously due to his defense-oriented system. “Lahat naman sila they still have to earn their minutes during practices,” he warned. “Defense-oriented kasi yung sistema ko.”
With a stacked line-up and a master motivator as head coach, the De La Salle University Green Archers are pencilled in by most pundits as the front-runners to win the UAAP Season 79 Men’s Basketball crown. Ayo, though, downplays this and is still wary of the other seven squads in the UAAP. “Lahat sila contenders. Ganun palagi trato ko every time I go in a competition. Walang ina-underestimate,” he closed.
“I always want to win and gagawin namin lahat para panalo. Pero you can’t always win, kelangan alam mo rin ang pakiramdam na matalo.”