MEMBERS of the Letran team that won an NCAA championship together two years ago have mostly gone their separate ways, but the bond remains as strong as ever.
"If there is one thing na hindi mawawala, 'yung 2015 team, very special," said former Letran coach Aldin Ayo, going down memory lane after his La Salle team beat the Knights on Friday in the Filoil preseason tournament.
The 2015 Letran team was backstopped by Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal, whose performance in that NCAA Season 91 campaign capped by the Knights' victory in the finals against powerhouse San Beda led to careers in the PBA.
Ayo perhaps made the biggest move of all, making the tough decision to leave his alma mater to coach La Salle, a team which at that time was fresh from missing the Final Four in the UAAP.
Despite the controversial move, Ayo remained very close to the entire 2015 Knights squad, some of whom are still playing for Letran this season.
Just last year, the 2015 Knights held a Christmas party, according to Ayo, and one of the things they did was watch Games One and Three of the NCAA Season 91 Finals.
And apparently, watching the finals series has become a habit for the group.
"Ginagawa namin ni McJour 'yun sa La Salle," said Ayo, referring to McJour Luib, who has joined him at La Salle as one of the assistant coaches. "Siguro isang libong beses na namin pinapanood yun."
Ayo also recalled one conversation with one of his former players in Jom Sollano.
"Si Jom, may common denominator kami," said Ayo, "na kapag depressed kami o tipong malungkot, isa lang ginagawa namin. Pinapanood namin Game 3 against San Beda. You can ask them."
"Every time na sasabihin ni Jom na, 'Coach, nawawalan ako ng kumpiyansa eh.' So anong gagawin mo? 'Ito coach, nanonood ako Game 3 namin. Even Mark and K-Racs (Racal)."
The journey from underdog to champion forged a special bond among members of the team, Ayo said.
"Everytime we do that, sabi nga ni Fr. Vic Calvo (Letran athletic director), 'yung shared moments na grabe sinakripisyo niyo, naging successful kayo. Alam mo 'yung common bond na hindi mawawala na extreme na puwedeng sobrang hirap o sobrang saya," Ayo said.
On Friday, Ayo coached against his former team once again in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup. Most of the players in the current Knights squad were either part of the 2015 title run or were his recruits.
Ayo may now be on the opposite side, but he still offers advice his former players with Letran from time to time even though he is no longer part of the Knights team.
One major advice? Play hard for their alma mater.
"I always tell them to give their best kasi kapag may mga problema, sa akin rin sila tumatakbo," said Ayo, whose former players include Rey Nambatac, Bong Quinto, JP Calvo, and Jerrick Balanza.
"Para sa alma mater natin, make sure na gawin niyo 'yung dapat gawin. At the end of the day, Letranista pa rin kami. Kahit nandito kami sa green, pero siyempre Letran pa rin kami," said Ayo.
Even though he won a title for La Salle in the UAAP last season, Ayo said there is still a special place in his heart for that 2015 Letran squad.
"Nawala ako, may nawala. Pero 'yung 2015 na 'yun, ibang klase 'yun," said Ayo.