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New UST coach Jinino Manansala vows to continue Aldin Ayo's program

Newly-appointed University of Santo Tomas head coach Jinino Manansala knows that the Growling Tigers' road back to UAAP basketball contention will be long and arduous.

"This is going to be a team effort -- to rise from the ashes," said Manansala. "We know what happened. We lost a lot of players."

Manansala, an assistant of UST's Season 82 runner-up squad under resigned head coach Aldin Ayo, said he was grateful for the opportunity given to him by the school.

"We will continue what's left behind," he said in Filipino.

Continuity for Manansala and the UST basketball program will center around the "mayhem" philosophy initially instilled by Ayo, with the coaching staff still intact except for the system's main architect. UST had a tumultuous offseason, which saw its basketball team being marred by unprecedented controversies. The Growling Tigers were accused of violating safety and health guidelines set by the government when they went to Sorsogon, Ayo's hometown, in the middle of a pandemic. The aftermath of the infamous Bicol bubble resulted in the resignation and eventual ban of Ayo from the UAAP. Eight players also transferred to other schools.

"I have no comment there. We just have to wait for the result," Manansala said on what transpired within the Tigers in the last several weeks. "The investigation is out there already. With coach Ayo, I wish his ban will be lifted. No further comment. We just have to wait for the result. If coach returns, we just have to ask him. What we're focusing now is rebuilding the team."

AYO resigned from his post in early September after UST's internal investigation, which then prompted the UAAP Board of Trustees to suspend the controversial coach indefinitely. By the end of the month, the Sorsogon police, with endorsement from Sorsogon governor Chiz Escudero, absolved Ayo of any wrongdoing, stating that the team's activities complied with the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for Emerging Infectious Diseases. On Wednesday, the Varsitarian reported that UST has endorsed Ayo's appeal to be reinstated into the league.

If Ayo's ban gets lifted, how will it affect the appointment of Manansala?

"Only coach (Ayo) can answer that because I don't know," Manansala explained. "He will be the one to decide on that. I can't say anything about that. We just have to wait. But now our focus really is on the team and hopefully we can start soon, having the guidelines of CHED and IATF."

The Tigers will begin their rebuilding process with half of their roster depleted, including standouts CJ Cansino, Rhenz Abando, and Mark Nonoy.

"We're back to square one, picking up the team due to players' departures," Manansala said. "We don't force players where they want to play, where they'll improve. But we wish them best in their new teams while we focus on rebuilding."

Manansala remains optimistic of his team's future despite everything that has happened.

"We greatly trust our remaining players," he said, referring to UAAP MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo, alongside role players Dave Ando and Sherwin Concepcion. The Tigers will also welcome newcomers Joshua Fontanilla, Manansala's top guard out of St. Clare, and Bryan Santos from Technological Institute of the Philippines, among others.

"These kids will fight," Manansala said. "We still have key players. Then we have a good point guard. We lost a lot in the wings spot. We have recruits, they'll be ready.

UST will now try to pick up the pieces of its tattered program, focusing on rebuilding, injecting new players, and working on the foundation of its established system. Manansala will also bank on his vast basketball experience as he tries to restore UST's lost glory.

Manansala, son of former PBA player Jimmy Manansala, was a Tigers captain during his college days. He played under legendary coach Aric del Rosario for five years from 1999 to 2003. He has been in the coaching circuit for the good part of the last decade competing in various tournaments, most notably in NAASCU. As the chief tactician for St. Clare, he won a total of five NAASCU titles (tied for the all-time league record), including the last four. He also has coaching experiences in the PBA D-League. Most recently, he served as an assistant for the 2019 Foundation Cup champions BRT Sumisip Basilan-St.Clare.

Manansala was set to man the Tiger Cubs but resigned from his post alongside Ayo last month. Now, he's back calling the shots for his alma mater.

"I've applied for UST for a while now. I tried to apply for the Seniors position just hoping. Of course there were plenty who applied, 13 of us. What we started before -- the mayhem program, we said will continue it."

As Manansala embarks on a new journey with UST, he will carry with him the lessons he learned from del Rosario.

"The late coach Aric really loved his job. He was never late, he was very punctual," Manansala said. "He was a very helpful person, he wouldn't leave you. He treats you like his own son. That's what I can say about coach Aric. I'm really thankful for the five years I was with him in the UST team."

Amid the controversies surrounding the Growling Tigers' camp, the best thing they can do right now is to move forward with their new head coach.