The focus of the UST Growling Tigers' bubble saga inevitably shifted to its head coach Aldin Ayo, who resigned Friday. Reports revealed that the UAAP Board of Managing Directors recommended that Ayo be held responsible for alleged violations of health protocols.
With his tenure at UST over, it's fitting to look back on Ayo's young coaching career. He started in his home province in Sorsogon before bursting into the collegiate scene in 2015.
In the last five years, no other coach has captured the imagination of Filipino basketball fans quite like Ayo did, as he racked up accomplishments and dealt with controversies. He immediately won an NCAA title in his first collegiate coaching stint with Letran. Then when he transferred to the UAAP, he steered his teams to the finals three times in the last four years, including a successful championship run with La Salle.
From his postgame interview after his very first win in the NCAA where he famously said 'gusto namin ng magulo,' the mayhem in which Ayo reveled has followed him everywhere he's been. Here's a look back at his last three coaching stops.
Letran Knights (2015-2016)
In NCAA Season 91, Ayo led Letran to its first title in 10 years after the Knights bested five-time defending champion San Beda. He perfected his "mayhem" system that resembled a fast-paced, helter-skelter brand of basketball. He led an underdog bunch of players that eventually took down a veteran powerhouse team. Players like Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal became household names after the Knights won over the Red Lions.
By November 2015, less than a month after winning the NCAA championship, Ayo signed with the DLSU Green Archers. He cited personal problems for leaving Letran and claimed that he was not prompted by "politics or money."
Ayo confirmed his departure days before the Knights' victory party. His announcement also coincided with the UAAP Season 78 finals between FEU and UST.
DLSU Green Archers (2016-2017)
On December 16, 2015, DLSU officially named Ayo as head coach, replacing Juno Sauler.
Even before he began his career with the Green Archers, Ayo stirred the pot by reportedly recruiting some of his former players. Three days before NCAA Season 92 started, Ayo made headlines by allegedly trying to bring Letran's Bong Quinto and JP Calvo over to La Salle.
When UAAP Season 79 came around, Ayo wasted no time in using the top talents at his disposal. Jeron Teng and Ben Mbala had an impressive season as DLSU rampaged through the tournament with 13 wins and only one loss. They continued their dominance by toppling archrival Ateneo in the finals.
Things started more of the same for La Salle in UAAP Season 80 when the team amassed a 12-2 record. La Salle and Ateneo met in the finals once again but this time, it was the Blue Eagles who came out victorious.
Rumors about Ayo transferring to UST swirled even before the Season 80 Finals ended. The coach tried to address the issue after Game 3 of the finals but no official announcement was made.
UST Growling Tigers (2018-2020)
By January of 2018, Ayo formalized his move to UST, replacing Boy Sablan.
In his first campaign with the Tigers, the team failed to qualify for the Final Four, finishing sixth overall with a 5-9 record. Moving away from his previous signature mayhem style, Ayo instilled a more methodical system for the 2018 Tigers. They still played hard-nosed defense, but it was clear that Ayo's coaching methods also evolved.
The growth of Ayo's team finally showed the very next year. Led by CJ Cansino, Mark Nonoy, and Soulemane Chabi Yo, the Tigers emerged as early Final Four contenders. And despite transfer rumors that surrounded its new star Rhenz Abando, Ayo made sure that his wards were on the same page. The Tigers flourished in the open court but also utilized the 3-pointer as a deadly weapon. They became one of the most exciting teams to watch as they combined athleticism, quickness, and timely shot-making.
UST, however, endured an uphill battle in the postseason. The Ateneo Blue Eagles swept the elimination round, forcing a stepladder semifinals format for UP, FEU, and UST. After finishing with an 8-6 record for fourth place, the Tigers had to eliminate the Tamaraws before overcoming the Maroons' twice-to-beat advantage to enter the finals.
Ayo and the Tigers eventually settled for a runner-up finish behind Ateneo. Their Cinderella story did not have the happiest ending, but it did spark hope among the UST faithful. The team's bright future was cemented when Ayo signed a three-year extension in December 2019.
UST's championship window closed as soon as it opened, following the ramifications of the team's alleged training bubble in Sorsogon. From the departure of several players, most notably incoming third-year star and captain Cansino, the Tigers' dream suddenly turned into a nightmare.
The aftermath of the bubble fiasco has yet to reach its conclusion, even with Ayo's resignation. Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing investigation, this controversy will leave an indelible mark on his coaching career.