MANILA - Former University of Santo Tomas (UST) point guard Mark Nonoy says the Growling Tigers followed physical distancing protocols while they were at the controversial "bubble" in Capuy, Sorsogon.
In an appearance on "Power and Play" with former PBA Commissioner Noli Eala, Nonoy and Deo Cuajao, who have both since transferred to De La Salle University, shared details of their life inside the "bubble."
The team stayed in former head coach Aldin Ayo's compound in Sorsogon, with some players arriving in June. Nonoy, Cuajao, and other players who hailed from the provinces arrived later on July 29.
"Noong hindi pa nag-start 'yung class, hinihiwalay po 'yung training. Noong kami, nung dumating kami doon, kasi naka-quarantine pa kami, so morning kami, mga 5 a.m. kami nagte-training," Nonoy recalled.
"Tapos, 'yung nauna doon, nagte-training sila mga bandang 8 pag tapos na kami," he added. "So, kumbaga, hindi kami sabay-sabay sa court talaga."
"Ino-observe din namin 'yung protocol ng IATF, wala naman kaming nilabag doon siguro."
Both Nonoy and Cuajao emphasized that they did not hold any scrimmages. Training sessions were held in batches as well.
"Walang scrimmage pero ano kami, anim kami ata noong na-quarantine kami doon. Tapos sila, hinihiwalay din sila. 'Yung ibang batch nasa gym tapos 'yung iba nasa court," Nonoy explained.
The team's training camp in Sorsogon became a major controversy, with the university conducting an internal investigation into the matter. Government agencies, including the Commission on Higher Education, also did their own probe. The CHED report has since been submitted to the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
The controversy has gutted the UST men's basketball program. First to go was former captain CJ Cansino, whose ouster from the team burst the bubble in the first place. He has since transferred to University of the Philippines. Rhenz Abando, Ira Bataller, and Brent Paraiso left the UAAP entirely, instead heading to the NCAA to play for the Letran Knights.
Nonoy and Cuajao, who are now both Green Archers, sought to clarify some of the statements made about the "bubble." Screen captures of a group chat with the parents of the players revealed the complaints of the Tigers about the food in the camp, but Nonoy and Cuajao said they saw no problems.
"Sa amin po, 'yung (galing) probinsya wala naman po kaming reklamo. Kasi 'yung mga nauna nga, 'yun 'yung mga, sa kanilang group may nag-reklamo," said Cuajao. "Hindi namin alam kung ano nangyari noong una kasi late po kami dumating. Pero sa amin wala po kaming reklamo."
They also denied the reports that the players were not allowed to leave the bubble. One reason for Cansino's removal from the team was that he had allegedly spoken on behalf of the Growling Tigers and asked permission to return to their homes. However, permission was not granted, and Cansino was later removed as team captain before he was kicked off the team entirely.
According to Nonoy and Cuajao, they were never barred from leaving the bubble.
"Siguro, yung isang rason na gusto ng umuwi nila CJ kasi na-homesick sila ata, kasi first time din nila ata na naghiwalay sa family nila. Tapos taga-Manila lang sila, hindi sila ganoon kasanay na mahiwalay," Nonoy said.
"Wala namang sinabi si coach na pag-umuwi ka, wala ka na sa team. Sabi nga niya, pwede namang umuwi. Example, uwi kami, tapos siguro the next month, kung balak naming bumalik, pwede naman kaming bumalik doon ulit," he added.
Cuajao stressed that they had a choice in the matter.
"Sabi ni coach, para sa amin din naman 'yun, 'yung practice. Malaking tulong sa amin 'yun. Pag gusto mong umuwi, pwede ka namang umuwi," he said.
Cansino left the bubble in the third week of August together with two other players. In the wake of the revelation about the camp, the players were sent home in late August.
It remains to be seen what other sanctions may be given after investigations are concluded. Ayo has already resigned from UST, with the UAAP also giving him an indefinite ban.