When the University of Santo Tomas figured in a close game with Ateneo last September 11, many saw the Growling Tigers as the ones who would topple the defending, two-time champions.
The expectations reached fever pitch when UST raised their slate to 4-2.
Then everybody wanted a piece of the Growling Tigers.
“Expectations of the whole community biglang tumaas eh.
“And sometimes… These are young kids. We have nine rookies, ‘di naman natin masasabi na, well, we want them to be consistent, pero bata eh. And sometimes, it affects them also. Ako, marami nga nagme-message sa akin ng mga alumni. For sure sila, marami nagme-message sa kanila, ‘O bakit ngayon, bakit hindi ka na maka-score? Bakit hindi ka na maka three-points?’ ‘Yun, it adds pressure,” shared second-year UST head coach Aldin Ayo.
Besides the pressure from the community and the fans, the Growling Tigers were also battling another thing — homesickness.
The majority of Ayo’s team came from provinces far from Manila.
There are Cebu-natives Zach Huang and Dave Ando, Negrense Mark Nonoy, Ilokano Rhenz Abando, and Davaoeño Deo Cuajao, among others.
Ayo, a native of Sorsogon, knows this, since he was away from his family during his days as a Letran Knight. And he, together with the team’s boosters, made sure to help the student-athletes out by bringing them home.
“Paunti-unti ‘yung mga parents ng mga bata pinapunta namin dito sa Manila. ‘Yung mga coming from the provinces kasi, number one, they’re homesick. They’re homesick and grabe ‘yung pressure. Kulang na lang pumunta sa ‘yo, umiyak sa ‘yo, ‘Coach parang grabe na ‘to’,” the decorated head coach confessed.
“So I advised them with the help of the managers na pumunta dito yung parents paunti unti without distracting them.”
This was then his way of clearing the minds of the young Tigers.
“Ang point ko sa kanila kasi, all of a sudden ang daming kumakausap sa mga bata eh. Kung sino-sino. May mga sponsorship. All of a sudden ganun eh. You go home. Ibig sabihin you go back to the people na nandun sa ‘yo nung nag-umpisa ka,” he continued.
“Go home, talk to your families, talk to your friends, talk to your love ones na hindi pa nangyayari ‘to kilala ka na eh. So that was our approach.”
Wednesday afternoon, the old UST team that fascinated the entire league showed up, blowing out UE in high-scoring fashion 101-73 to return to the win column.
Almost the entire team contributed in the win, with the Growling Tigers dishing out a season-high 42 assists.
Knowing what his young team went through and how they were able to overcome it in the meantime, Ayo is asking the UST community to their part as well.
“Ako, pakiusap ko lang sa Thomasian community, wala ka masasabi in terms of support and prayers. I know the whole community is behind us. Grabe yung suporta sa amin, especially yung mga alumni, lahat,” expressed Ayo.
“But, pakiusap ko lang, just taper the expectations. Rest assured that we are going to do our best and we’re going forward. Lahat ng ginagawa namin para sa UST.”