MANILA, Philippines – De La Salle University head coach Aldin Ayo was impressed with how much Arellano University guard Jiovani Jalalon has improved after the so-called "Bus Driver" towed the Chiefs all the way to the Finals of the 2016 FilOil Flying V Preseason Tournament.
Jalalon was one of the most impressive players in the preseason tilt, earning Mythical Five honors after averaging 19.1 points, 3.8 boards, and 4.1 assists per game.
He was spectacular in the Final 4, nearly notching a triple-double in their triumph against National University.
Jalalon very nearly led Arellano to an upset of La Salle, scoring 23 points in the first half before fading down the stretch as the Green Archers imposed their will through their superior depth and post play.
(READ: Jalalon can’t run over Mbala as DLSU sweeps Filoil)
"Ang hirap pigilin ng batang 'yun," Ayo admitted after La Salle's 86-74 victory in the Finals of the tournament. "Kanina, kitang-kita niyo namang ang hirap pigilan ng bata."
"Siguro, kinapos lang doon sa endgame, nakaramdam din ng pagod," he added. "Pero (he's) one of the best point guards in the amateurs, and he's ripe for the pros."
Jalalon has had a busy offseason: aside from competing in preseason tilts with Arellano, he also represented the Philippines in the SEABA Stankovic Cup with the Gilas Cadets. Along the way, he has improved greatly, even showing off a better shooting stroke.
He was 6-of-8 from behind the arc in the first half against La Salle, but made only one more triple the rest of the way – a three-pointer with 5:41 to go in the fourth quarter when La Salle had already scored nine unanswered points to take control of the game.
Jalalon finished the championship game with a 32 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, but also had five turnovers.
The second-place finish was Arellano's best in the tournament. This, combined with their victory over San Beda College in the quarterfinals, cemented the Chiefs' status as one of the favorites for the NCAA crown.
"(Arellano is) much better compared to last year because of Jio," Ayo conceded.
But Ayo, who led Colegio de San Juan de Letran to the championship in Season 91, made it clear that he still believes the Knights will win the title again.
"Letran pa rin ako," he declared. "Andoon si Jio, andoon si (Kent) Salado, and merong mga big man na dumating, pero those kids (in Letran), lalaban 'yan. I've talked to McJour (Luib), I've talked to them, sabi ko, keep working hard."
"May mga weaknesses (sa Letran). Sinabi ko sa kanila ang mga weaknesses, and sabi ko trabahuhin niyo lang. Ako, palagi akong susuporta sa kanya," he added.
Ayo acknowledged that Jalalon clearly wants to win a championship in the NCAA, but said the Knights are there to deny him. Arellano missed out on the Final Four in Season 91 after they were beaten by Mapua Institute of Technology in a playoff for the final semis spot.
"Last season, gusto niyang ipakita kung anong laro ang meron siya," Ayo said of Jalalon. "Nagayong napakita na niya, he wants to win a championship. But, unfortunately, hindi pa rin niya makukuha 'un kasi Letran pa rin."
"Mahihirapan pa rin siya kina Rey (Nambatac) at McJour," he said.
Letran lost two of its Big Three – Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal – to the PBA, but will still have Nambatac, and Luib and Jom Sollano – two of the heroes who towed them to victory in Game 3 of the Season 91 Finals against San Beda.
Yet the Knights have the intangibles, the guts to make the winning plays in crunch time and that will serve them well in the tournament, said Ayo.
"Ang basketball, darating at darating 'yung point na pipigain ka eh," he said. "Pag andoon ka na sa stage na 'yun, anong gagawin mo – gusto mong manalo, or wala kang gagawin? Sa ganoong sitwasyon, lamang na lamang ang Letran doon."
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