The Aldin Ayo era officially began for the UST Growling Tigers when the 81st season of the UAAP kicked off on Saturday.
Ayo and the Tigers made their debut against a young and talented NU Bulldogs squad. They came back from a 17-point deficit but could not get the win in their first game of the season.
"We shot 28 percent on our field goals and we shot 14 percent on our 3-point field goals," assessed Ayo as his top gunners failed to hit their mark. "You won't win that way. We shot more than NU but that was our percentage. It's hard to win that way."
Much can be expected from a coach who has both a UAAP and NCAA title under his belt, but Ayo's confidence does not supersede his self-awareness. He knows that he has a young team and is aware of the arduous steps in winning a championship. Even when rookie and former Juniors MVP CJ Cansino had 20 points to lead the Tigers in scoring, Ayo was more concerned about team success rather than individual success.
"I'm not happy because we lost," Ayo said about his rookie's performance. "There's no silver lining that CJ got 20 or there were other players who played well. Bottomline we lost. So we're not going to be satisfied with it."
During the preseason press conference, assistant coach Nap Garcia mentioned that Ayo wasn't actually going to implement his signature "mayhem" style. Instead, it was going to be a "Hail Mary." After the Tigers' first game, Ayo expounded on the revised mantra.
"We called it Hail Mary because well I'm a devotee of Mama Mary, especially it's her birthday today. It's a prayer. Every time we pray we always honor the Mother Mary," Ayo said, but also pointed out. "Double meaning if you analyze it. Hail Mary is a long shot. It's up to you guys to interpret it but for me I always offer our game, and my coaching, as a form of prayer."
If the Tigers' chances for a Final Four berth may indeed seem like a long shot, Ayo doesn't consume himself with immediate success. Championships and finals appearances have been a fixture in Ayo's career for the last three years, but he is in a different territory. It's an uphill climb that he and his team are willing to go through.
"If there's a good thing about this is this is only our first game, we still have 13 games," Ayo said. "We can still adjust. The good thing is that the kids are solid. Even with this loss, we won't be discouraged with this kind of defeat. We're just going to keep on working hard, playing hard, for our alma mater for UST because the community deserves a good showing because there's the support for us."
A new era has begun for the UST Growling Tigers with Ayo at the helm. Mayhem won't exactly be found in España. Instead, it will be a slow process of hard work and faith that will hopefully bring success to Ayo and his new team.