For University of Santo Tomas' Soulemane Chabi Yo and Mark Nonoy, capturing the top individual awards in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament is merely a stepping stone for a much bigger prize. As new additions to the Growling Tigers this year, they have a common goal of trying to help UST bring the title back to España.
"For me, it's okay, that's good," said the season's Most Valuable Player Chabi Yo on the distinction. "But what's more important is the championship so we have to give all our best."
"It's an honor for the UST community that we won awards. For me, it's still different if each of us got an award, and that's the championship which is our goal," echoed Rookie of the Year Mark Nonoy.
The Beninese big man Chabi Yo garnered the most number of statistical points (SPs) with 76 backed by gaudy averages of 16.9 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. On Wednesday's knockout game against the FEU Tamaraws, he delivered an MVP performance with 25 points, 10 boards, and three dimes.
"It was a do-or-die game. We just tried to play good defense and then execute the plays and follow the system of the coach," said the towering center. "We wanted to play our A-game today so that we'll win so that's what we did. We started strong and we tried to finish strong."
Chabi Yo had to double his effort against the Tamaraws especially because the frontcourt of the Tigers was riddled with foul trouble. He logged in a team-high 31 minutes as Ira Bataller and Dave Ando combined for nine fouls. UST coach Aldin Ayo lauded the efforts of Chabi Yo in the face of a must-win situation.
"I was a little bit worried because our bigs were in foul trouble and he played extended minutes," Ayo disclosed. "That's why I kept asking him, 'Are you okay? Are you okay?' and he kept on telling me, 'coach, this is a do-or-die game. I'm going to play.'"
Ayo also knows that winning is all that matters for his prized center.
"He's not going to slow down I know him personally. When he said that he wants the championship more, well, he really means it," the coach said.
Nonoy, a product of UST's high school basketball program, doesn't want the individual accolade to be a distraction.
"I got my goal as Rookie of the Year but as coach said, I don't need to prove myself anymore," said Nonoy, as he averaged 10.0 points per game as the top freshman. "What we really need is to win. There's already the individual award so the only thing left is to win every game."
The quick-footed guard had been a scorer in his high school days but was asked to develop into a point guard when he entered the Seniors ranks. He had to adjust his position while still maintaining his explosiveness and fearless style. Since last summer and all throughout this season, he continued to learn how to be a lead guard on the floor for the Tigers.
After being named as two of the best players in the league, both Nonoy and Chabi Yo know that they still have the monumental task of trying to take down the second-seed UP Fighting Maroons, not just once, but twice, in order to advance to the championship round.
"UP is the most talented team and we should not make many mistakes," Chabi Yo said. "And at the same time we don't have to be pressured and we should play excellent defense."
"We can't underestimate them because they're strong. But for us, we'll do everything we worked on since summer, all our training, and think about all our sacrifices for our families. We'll just do our best so that we'll win against UP," said Nonoy.