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Freedom, trust end Letran’s ten-year drought

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The current Letran lineup is an unorthodox group of student-athletes that includes a pint-sized guard, a 6’4 center, a wing player that is forced to play four positions, among others. So how did coach Aldin Ayo combat the tall lineups of the other squads? The answer is simple, freedom and trust.

Freedom is defined as the power to determine action without restraint while not affecting the liberty of others.

The logic to coach Ayo’s offensive sets is that instead of being at the bottom end of the mismatches game-in and game-out, the rookie mentor utilized the skill sets of each individual and gave them the freedom run the offense. “Ang sinasabi ko kasi sa kanila if they want to do something, just do it,” Ayo remarked.

For Ayo, the system is secondary. “On offense kasi I tell them to just be spontaneous, maglaro lang kayo ng basketball,” he said. “Kung hindi niyo magawa yung gusto niyo dun tayo bumalik sa system. And basketball naman kasi very instinctive yan.”

This mindset confounded even the brightest minds in collegiate basketball today, San Beda head coach Jamike Jarin.

Having an imposing lineup that has an average height of 6’3, the Red Lions plowed through their opponents during the course of the season. In the Finals, Letran utilized their speed and arm length to disrupt San Beda’s defense en route to the championship. The 38-year old champion head coach credited this to the high basketball IQ of his troops.

“Isa sa mga strengths ng team na ito is matatalino ang mga to. Sabi ko sa kanila, ‘kung hindi kayo maging matalino san ba kayo pupulutin.’” Ayo disclosed. “Maliliit kami pero puwedeng palitan ng smarts.”

This freedom though was earned by the Knights and, surprisingly, by the rookie coach himself.

Senior Kevin Racal admitted that he knew nothing about Ayo when he was hired to coach and direct the Letran basketball program for the next four years.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Freedom, trust end Letran’s ten-year drought    “Hindi na naman kami babalik next year,” Racal quipped when asked about what were his thoughts on Coach Ayo coming in. “Ako nung una hindi ko kilala si coach. Yun nga kasi hindi kami napang-abot sa Letran. Yung mga utility namin sabi sa amin siya yung magiging coach. “ He added that the fiery coach scared him when they first met. “Nakakatakot siya e, hindi kasi marunong mag smile. Pero yung ginawa niya sa amin, ang laking bagay hindi lang sa basketball.”

Ayo then shared how he earned the trust of his players during the team’s team-building session prior to the start of the NCAA season. “Sa team building namin nag set kami ng goals. Yung mga players sabi pumasok lang kami sa Final Four. Then, sabi ni Mark, ‘Coach pumasok lang tayo sa Final Four anything can happen na,’” he disclosed. “Ako yung last, so sinabi ko hindi ba kayo naniniwala na mag chachampion tayo? Many of them laughed, tinawanan ako. Siguro dahil hindi pa nag sisink-in. Until lang nung natalo namin JRU, yung second game namin, dun lang sila naniwala.”

Slowly, the Letran community started to trust and believe in the team as the Letran crowd slowly grew in numbers to witness the Knights. “After namin natalo yung lahat ng contenders, dun lang kami nakapagsabi na kaya namin. We kept on working hard, I kept on motivating them.” Even the priests that handle the prestigious institution increased their expectations as the wins kept coming. “Sabi sa akin ng mga pari, ni Father Vic, nung hinire nila ako, ‘Coach pumasok lang tayo sa Final Four, okay na kami.’ Pero nung nag 7-0 kami iba na sinabi ni Father,’go for the sweep.’”

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Freedom, trust end Letran’s ten-year drought    With the trust that the whole community has bestowed upon him, it was time to instill Ayo’s tested system of forty minutes of chaos. “Yung sistema na ito naka-build na walang kinikinalang lamang,” he said about his pressing defense that is likened to Franz Pumaren’s nightmare press. “Sa probinsiya kasi kahit tambakan kami ng bente o trenta, trapin lang namin nananalo pa. Sipag lang talaga.” This system forced their opponents to commit a whopping 27.56 turnovers a game in the Elimination Round. Moreover, in the Finals, San Beda committed a total of 88 turnovers in three games that helped paved the way for the 17th seniors basketball crown for the Muralla cagers.

Ayo though admitted that there were turbulent times during the season that resulted in squabbles within the team. “Hindi madali, may mga away pero we make sure na lahat ng ginagawa namin may objectives. Hindi kami gumagawa ng kahit anong unneccessary.” Through those times, Ayo said that he humbled himself to his players that tested his patience. “Alam na nila Mark and ni K-Racs, binaba ko yung sarili ko sa kanila without compromising my authority. Ang dami nila ginawa na sa loob-loob ko kumukulo na ko. Being the leader, ako ang kelangan mag pasensiya. Bata rin kasi sila, I need to humble myself to them,” Ayo reflected.

With Cruz, Racal, and the Knights ending their ten-year odyssey, Ayo is set to go back to return to work to train a new batch of Knights that will don the Blue and Red. “After magcelebrate balik trabaho na ako. Marami pa kelangan trabahuin. Madami pa naka-reserve for next year.”

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