FOUR years removed from him bringing Letran its last NCAA title, Aldin Ayo went back to his roots and supported his alma mater in its game against San Beda on Saturday at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay.
It was the first time for the now-University of Santo Tomas head coach to watch a Knights game live in three years.
And what made the occasion all the more special is that it almost served as a Letran reunion of sorts for that championship team.
Kevin Racal spearheaded in making the gathering possible as key cogs from that squad, namely Mark Cruz, Rey Nambatac, Bong Quinto, JP Calvo, and Mcjour Luib were all in attendance for the game.
"Of course, masarap sa pakiramdam na babalik ka sa ganitong mga laro, na before ka umalis, you were successful," said the outspoken Ayo. "The players, sila K-Racs, sila Mark, sila Rey, sila Bong, JP, Mcjour, they take pride on that, that we're able to accomplish that."
Remnants of that championship team, like Jerrick Balanza and Jeo Ambohot, remain with the squad and now are thrusted into larger roles for the Knights.
Unfortunately, Letran found itself on the short end of the stick, falling to its rival San Beda, 70-66, but not without a fight.
Still, Ayo was happy to note that although changes were abound the Knights, the familiar Arriba spirit remains with the team.
"In terms of how they play, it's different. Iba na yung system. Pero sa ugali ng players, sa support ng community, I think it didn't change. Tradition na yun eh," he said. "Magpalit man ng sistema at ng coaches, pero yung tradition, nandoon na yun. Hindi mawawala yung pagiging Letranista."
Balanza is a perfect poster boy, in Ayo's eyes, of that mantra, with the 6-foot-2 Swiss army knife turning from being a gangly rookie to now Letran's main weapon.
"Malaki yung inimprove ni Jerrick in terms of his playing skills and his leadership," said Ayo, who is hardly surprised with the senior forward's improvement.
"Innate naman yun sa mga alumni ng Squires, na pag nag-graduate yung mga nauna sa kanila, they always take over."
Ayo also took pride seeing hardworking forward Ato Ular finally get his break after being limited in Letran's Team B for the better part of the last three years.
"Nagtataka nga kami kung bakit hindi nakapaglaro si Ato in the past two or three seasons eh. That guy deserves to play," said the champion bench tactician. "Kinailangan niyang i-prove ang laro niya sa ibang liga para mapunta sa NCAA, pero right from the start, we know that he deserves to play. Good thing for him na naglalaro na siya ngayon and good thing he's playing well."
Though luck did not smile on Letran's way on Saturday, Ayo thinks that the team proved that they are no pushovers this year.
And though the Knights saw their five-game winning streak end and fall to a 5-2 win-loss record, the crew is more than ready to bounce back and make a run for the NCAA Season 95 championship.
"Syempre, we are hoping na maulit ulit yung championship this year. That's why we're here to support them," said Ayo.