MANILA - Aldin Ayo remains invested in the basketball careers of the players he used to coach in University of Santo Tomas, though they have now gone their separate ways.
A promising team that made a Cinderella run to the UAAP Season 82 Finals was broken apart in September, when it was revealed that the Growling Tigers stayed in Ayo's hometown of Sorsogon starting June.
There were allegations of basketball training but the local government of Sorsogon has since absolved Ayo of all wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the damage was done: player after player left the UST men's basketball program, and Ayo resigned from his post before being banned indefinitely by the UAAP.
"Well, it was very unfortunate for us, because binuo namin 'yung team na 'yun eh. We sacrificed a lot, madaming nag-invest doon sa mga players," Ayo said of the decimation of the squad during an appearance on "Power and Play" with former PBA Commissioner Noli Eala.
Former team captain CJ Cansino's exit was the first domino that ultimately toppled the whole program. His departure blew the lid on the "Sorsogon bubble," and Cansino eventually transferred to University of the Philippines.
Several Growling Tigers left España soon after: Rhenz Abando, Brent Paraiso and Ira Bataller left the UAAP entirely, opting to transfer to Colegio de San Juan de Letran. Mark Nonoy, the reigning Rookie of the Year, transferred to De La Salle University together with Deo Cuajao. Incoming freshman Bismarck Lina decided to follow Cansino to UP.
Among the players who helped UST to a runner-up finish last season, only a few decided to stay put, including Season 82 MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo and sweet-shooting big man Sherwin Concepcion.
"They are still my players, although nasa ibang teams na sila," said Ayo. "Pero I became their coach, and sa akin gusto kong maging successful sila. And I wish them luck."
Ayo is also hoping that the players are respected and understood for the decision that they made. Cansino, in particular, came under fire following his exit, with some implying that he had been recruited by UP even before he was removed from the team.
"May mga nagsasabi na 'yung mga players, may mga decision na hindi maganda o ano, well we have to understand also the players, na gumagawa din sila ng mga sacrifices eh," said Ayo.
"And, they took the risk. Kasi kung tutuusin, okay na sila dito sa UST. Okay na sila dito. 'Yun pag-alis nila, they're going to take a risk, and pwedeng maging advantageous, and pwedeng hindi naman eh," he added.
"Samantala kung dito sa UST, in terms of playing, okay na rin naman sana. Pero well, 'yun, we should understand them, 'yung mga players."
While his players found new homes, Ayo also moved on. His appeal to the UAAP regarding his suspension is being endorsed by UST, but in the meantime, he is set to coach the Manila Chooks TM squad that will represent the Philippines in FIBA 3x3 tournaments.