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The process of turning Tiger Cubs into Knights

Aldin Ayo-mentored squads have one thing in common: Motivation.

In 2015, no one believed that the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights would climb back to the top of the collegiate world. But the Knights did just that, toppling arch-rivals San Beda Red Lions in one of the most spectacular seasons in the NCAA.

In 2016, every one knew that the De La Salle University Green Archers would dominate to the top of the collegiate world. La Salle took down arch-rivals Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles in one of the most dominant seasons in the UAAP.

Three years later, Ayo is building a team from scratch with the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers. This time around, there are no super seniors like Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal, Ben Mbala, or Jeron Teng.

For this team, Ayo wants them to find their own motivation and to bond as one as the season progresses.

“We’re a very young team with nine rookies at isa lang senior. Yung mga rookies are still adjusting,” disclosed Ayo.

Ina-adjust ng rookies, ‘di lang laro, pati venues. First time makapasok sa Araneta, sa MOA, so malaking bagay yung experience kasi nagugulat sila.”

That is why last summer, Ayo and his staff cleaned house, recruiting pieces from all over the country that perfectly fits his system.

The biggest prize he caught was UAAP Season 80 Juniors Basketball Most Valuable Player CJ Cansino. He then surrounded him with players like Joshua Marcos (LSGH), Nat Cosejo (DLS-Z), Germy Mahinay (San Beda), Ira Batiller (Arellano), Tobi Agustin (JRU), JM Lagumen (San Beda), and Arnold Ando (USJ-R). Waiting in the wings are Sherwin Concepcion (Mapua) and Sam Abu Hijleh (San Beda).

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Though there will still be holdovers from this season’s team and promotions from Team B in the following years, these young Tigers will serve as the team’s core. And Ayo wants them to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows together as one unit.

“Malaking bagay sila para sa program ng UST. They have to gain experience this season.”

In just the first two games of the UAAP Season 81 tournament, the Growling Tigers figured in two character-building games.

On opening day, CJ Cansino’s impressive debut went for naught as UST fell to the loaded National University Bulldogs, 70-75. Four days later, UST bounced back with an early-season stunner over the battle-tested Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 76-74.

And UST’s young guns had a huge imprint in both games.

“Mas masarap siyempre itong manalo. Wala akong pakialam kung pangit man yung laro ko o maganda basta manalo. Yun talagang gusto ko,” shared Cansino, who had 20 points on opening day but was limited to just seven points against FEU but was able to grab 10 rebounds.

“Kasi kung talo nga, maganda yung laro ko, ako lang yung masaya, pero kung manalo, lahat kami masaya, buong UST masaya.”

With Cansino limited, it was his batchmates who stepped up.

Marcos paced the Growling Tigers, scoring all 12 of his points in the first half.

“Siyempre, masarap sa feeling, pero siyempre, ‘di kami mag-stop dito. Magwo-work hard kami lalo,” the former Greenie said.

On the other hand, Cosejo and Mahinay linked up to help limit Prince Orizu, who was having a career-game for FEU.

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“Sinasabi lang ni coach na ‘wag naming isipin na bata kami, na lumaban lang kami,” said Cosejo, who had seven rebounds in the game.

“Masarap sa feeling kasi yun nga, as a player, pinagkatiwalaan ako ni coach Aldin, so yung feeling ko nung sinabi ko na binigyan niya ako ng tiwala, pinakita ko na yung tiwala niya, ‘di ko sasayangin,” added Mahinay, who had eight rebounds and two points to finish with a plus-10 rating.

“Pinakita ko na yung tiwala niya sa akin, di ko sasayangin.”

For the next few weeks, Agustin, Batiller, Lagumen, and Ando will also have their moments – all building up for the future.

In five to six years, Ayo will turn these Cubs into Tigers. Better yet – turn them into Knights.

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