SPORTSMEN WHO MAKE IT HAPPEN
Aldin Ayo
by Jan Ballesteros

Aldin Ayo carried the massive expectations at La Salle on his shoulders and completed a unique double in college basketball, winning an NCAA title with Letran and a UAAP championship with the Green Archers the following year. Truly a difference maker

"DIFFICULT and sweet." 

This was how coach Aldin Ayo described his first season at the helm of the UAAP Season 79 champions De La Salle Green Archers. 

Indeed, things went rough for a mentor who had to carry high expectations and crushing pressure on his broad shoulders throughout the season.  

Aside from that, he was the ‘underdog’ in terms of credentials and experience in a UAAP coaching roster bannered by the likes of Ateneo's Tab Baldwin, National University's Eric Altamirano, Adamson's Franz Pumaren, and Far Eastern University's Nash Racela, to name a few. 

That’s why when the confetti fell on Archers at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in December last year, no one was happier than Ayo.

"Of course (parang nabawasan ng tinik)," said Ayo.

Ayo, who transferred to La Salle shortly after leading Letran to the NCAA championshp, bared that the struggle began way before the season even unfurled.

Upon his entry into La Salle's lair, coaches and media tagged the Green Archers as the team-to-beat owing to an intact lineup reinforced by big man Ben Mbala. 

"It took me almost four months before maka-adjust," said Ayo.

"Napakahirap ng adjustment period. You have to instill the system and establish the foundation, yun talaga pinakamahirap eh. Pero once na ma-establish mo na, everything follows na eh," he added.

At times, the pressure became too much to handle, he admitted. But what choice did he have? It was inevitable, after all, so it didn't take long before Ayo decided to just embrace it and use it as fuel to his fire. 

"You're going to get pressured, lahat ng coaches ng kalaban ikaw tinuturo na magcha-champion. Pati media. For sure, the management and school heads nakikinig yang mga yan so malaking pressure at mas nagpahirap yun," he said.

"Inevitable yun so you just have to embrace it and put it on your shoulders, kargahin mo na lang. And keep doing the things you're supposed to do," added Ayo. 

La Salle went on to live up to expectations and cruised to a 13-1 record after the elimination round. The highlights of its campaign included 40-point blowout of the University of Santo Tomas.

But Ayo revealed later that getting the job done was harder than it looked. The team, according to Ayo, really got going only after besting Adamson in the Final Four to enter the finals. 

"Hindi ko alam na at the back of some players' minds, meron pa palang mga reservations. Pagdating sa season mismo dun nagsilabasan so we had to cure that," said the former Letran cager.

"May mga players pa pala na di nag-surrender [sa system] eh. Pero after the Final Four, before the championship dun nila na-realize na di makakaigi kung ganun ang gagawin nila e, yung mga pansarili. Pero masasabi ko na dun kami nabuo, although we struggled in Game One. After that, confident na kami na makukuha namin championship," he added. 

After making an impressive feat in winning back-to-back collegiate titles in two separate leagues, his goal remains the same: Keep the Green Archers on top of everyone in the UAAP. But Ayo knows that defending the crown is as tough, if not tougher, than winning it the first time. 

At least now, though, Ayo has the rest of the team in carrying the expectations and pressure from start to finish.  

"Main goal namin is to be the best we can possibly be at mapiga namin lahat ng potential namin come the UAAP season," he said. 

"Of course (we're craving for more), that's competiion. Once you reach the top, your main goal is to stay there eh. You're gonna do everything para lang to maintain that."