MANILA, Philippines -- Now one of the top 3x3 players in the country, former De La Salle University standout Santi Santillan is set to reunite with the coach who brought him to Manila and gave him his big break.
This, after Aldin Ayo was tapped as the head coach of the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas team for FIBA tournaments. Ayo coached the De La Salle Green Archers for two years, and Santillan was part of the squad that reached the UAAP finals in 2017.
Since then, he has emerged as one of the best 3x3 players in the Philippines and is currently ranked sixth in the country.
"Siyempre, nakaka-excite talaga kasi coach ko na siya ulit," Santillan said of his impending reunion with Ayo. "Alam ko naman paano siya mag-coach, tapos alam din niya paano ako maglaro."
Under Ayo's guidance, the Green Archers won the UAAP championship in Season 79. The next year -- Santillan's first season with the team -- they compiled a 12-2 win-loss record and reached the finals again, but lost to archrival Ateneo de Manila University.
Ayo left La Salle in December 2017 for a two-year stint with University of Santo Tomas that ended in controversy. He was banned by the UAAP in September for his role in the so-called "Sorsogon bubble," where the Growling Tigers were alleged to have trained in the province despite quarantine restrictions.
The embattled coach landed on his feet, as he was tapped to mentor the 3x3 team that includes his former star big man.
"Si Santi, alam na alam na naman natin kung anong kayang gawin n'yan," said Ayo. "Masaya akong makakasama ko siya ulit."
Santillan will play alongside the Philippine's top two players, Joshua Munzon and Alvin Pasaol, and No. 5 Troy Rike for Manila Chooks TM. They will compete in the Doha Masters later this month, as part of their preparations for the FIBA 3x3 Olympic qualifying tournament in May 2021.
This will be Ayo's first time to coach in 3x3, but Santillan is confident that he will be similarly successful in the halfcourt version of the game.
"Kitang-kita naman natin ang record niya dati pa. Nadala niya lahat ng team niya sa finals e 'di ba?" he pointed out. "Alam na alam kong si coach Aldin, mabilis mag-aadjust yan, kahit 3x3 pa 'yan."