MANILA, Philippines -- The uncertainty surrounding the men's basketball program of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) compelled rookie star Mark Nonoy and promising swingman Deo Cuajao to leave the school, regardless of how much they love the university.
Nonoy and Cuajao are the latest players to bolt from UST, as the fallout over the "Sorsogon Bubble" controversy continues.
Former captain CJ Cansino's ouster from the team burst the bubble, as it was revealed that the Growling Tigers trained in Sorsogon since June -- a violation of quarantine protocols. In the weeks that followed, player after player transferred out of España, among them rising Rhenz Abando and veteran Brent Paraiso.
For Nonoy and Cuajao, leaving UST was a difficult choice, but one they had to make given the circumstances.
"Sa amin naman, gusto namin na mag-stay sa UST," said Nonoy, the Rookie of the Year in Season 82, in an appearance on the "2OT" podcast on Tuesday afternoon.
As recently as Sunday, the two players remained undecided about their next move. It was only on Monday that they emotionally bid their goodbyes to UST, and on Tuesday, they confirmed their transfer to De La Salle University.
Nonoy explained that for the sake of their basketball careers, they had to leave UST as its program was in limbo, and there was no certainty as to what will happen to the team and even the school as a whole.
Erstwhile head coach Aldin Ayo had already resigned, and the UAAP has since given him an indefinite ban from the league. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) also submitted a report about UST to the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government, with further investigations possible.
"Naka-hang lang kami," Nonoy said. "Hindi namin alam kung anong mangyayari and 'yung career namin ang nakasalalay dito."
"Loyal sa loyal. Loyal kami sa coaches at saka sa UST pero hindi namin alam kung anong kalabasan nang mangyayari sa UST at sa coaches po kaya kami nag-desisyon," he added.
It was a last-minute decision on their part, said Nonoy, as they wanted to wait and see what would happen to Ayo and to the school. On Sunday, their agent, Jackson Chua of Team Phenom Sports, said the pair wanted to know if UST will endorse Ayo's appeal of his sanction to the league.
As of posting, the university has yet to post a statement regarding Ayo's indefinite suspension from the UAAP.
Even when their other teammates were already transferring, Nonoy said they still wanted to stick around and see what the fallout would be.
"Inaalam talaga namin kung ano mangyayari kay coach at sa UST. Kasi wala pang nangyayari eh," he said. "'Di pa naa-announce na maba-ban si coach or anong mangyayari sa school, kaya inalam talaga namin."
"Nagbigay kami ng oras para hintayin kung anong mangyayari kay coach. Kaya ngayon lang kami nakapag-desisyon na aalis kami," he added.
Up to now, with Nonoy and Cuajao already completing their transfer and even meeting with La Salle's chief backer, there is still no word on UST's fate. It remains to be seen if the school will be sanctioned for the "bubble," or if it is only the men's basketball team that will be punished.
What's certain is that neither Nonoy nor Cuajao could afford to wait anymore.
"Hindi pa rin namin alam hanggang ngayon kung anong mangyayari sa team, kaya siguro it's time na maglipat na kami. Kasi hinahabol din namin 'yung enrollment namin, para makapasok kami sa one-year residency po," said Nonoy.
Both players will now sit out a year of residency, before suiting up for the Green Archers in Season 84. It's a new challenge for the two of them, one that they are looking forward to.
La Salle has had a promising offseason as well, having acquired former San Beda University guard Evan Nelle, and Nonoy is already excited for their future partnership in the backcourt.
Yet their departure from UST will always be a bittersweet memory for the players.
"Mahirap din na iniwan namin ang UST," said Nonoy. "Doon kami na-expose, nasanay na kami doon. And grabe 'yung kapag nag-cheer sila all throughout the season, andyan sila sa tabi namin."
"Pero 'yung mga bagay na hindi namin kontrolado, 'yun ang sumira sa amin. Hindi naman namin ginusto na umalis sa UST."