MANILA, Philippines -- The sudden decline of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) men's basketball program is a blow not just for the university, but for the UAAP and even Philippine basketball as a whole.
This, according to University of the Philippines (UP) head coach Bo Perasol who expressed his sadness at the way the Growling Tigers were decimated by controversy over the past few months.
UST, after making a surprising run to the UAAP finals in Season 82, now faces a massive rebuild with several of its key players exiting the program in the wake of the "Sorsogon bubble" controversy. Its head coach, Aldin Ayo, is banned from the UAAP indefinitely as well, and the school has yet to announce a replacement.
"In general, I think, Coach Aldin was humble enough, eventually, to admit that it was his fault in the end," Perasol said during an appearance on "The Chasedown" last weekend.
Ayo had the Growling Tigers training in his hometown of Capuy, Sorsogon since June, a possible violation of quarantine restrictions in the country. The "bubble" was burst when erstwhile captain CJ Cansino was kicked off the team and has since transferred to UP.
Since the revelation regarding UST's training, the university has conducted an internal investigation, and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has also done its own probe. CHED submitted a report to the Department of Justice and Department of Interior and Local Government, which may also look into the issue for other possible violations.
The issue has left the UST program in tatters, and Perasol believes the UAAP is the worse for it.
"Although alam mong kalaban mo na malakas itong UST, but as one of the people who had been wanting for UAAP or for PH basketball as a whole to really improve, alam mo na dapat na andoon talaga si Coach Aldin or si UST," he said.
"It makes you sad to see a beautiful program as UST's, to crumble like that," he added. "Parang naiisip mo na, paano nangyari 'yun, parang all of a sudden, from that point na talagang from a championship-caliber team, then parang sa term natin parang nakahoy ang team."
Perasol knows very well the capabilities of the Growling Tigers: they beat his Fighting Maroons twice in the Final 4 last year to make it to the finals. His talent-laden team, which featured one-time UAAP MVP Bright Akhuetie and Mythical Team members Kobe Paras, Ricci Rivero, and Juan Gomez de Liano, fell against a UST team that was peaking at the right time.
But having one less rival to consider is of no consolation to Perasol, who sympathizes with Ayo and the other stakeholders of the UST program.
"It's so hard, it's really so hard. Take it from me, it's really so hard to build a program, and a winning program, at that. So napakahirap talaga niyan," said Perasol, who has been credited with transforming UP from the doldrums of the UAAP into contenders.
Perasol needed some time and plenty of investment from UP's alumni and sponsors to build the Fighting Maroons into a squad that can hang with the UAAP's traditional powerhouses.
He expects that UST will need the same.
"I don't know how UST, I'm sure UST is going to pick up from where they fell. Pero, it will take time again. I'm just hoping that everything is going to be fine sooner or later," he said.