ALDIN Ayo shot down rumors there is a contract buyout discussion with UST and that Tiger Cubs head coach Bonnie Garcia is taking over the Growling Tigers.
Ironcon-UST fell short of the PBA D-League quarterfinals aside from struggling in a collegiate preseason tournament, and there is online talk Ayo is on his way out.
But the UAAP and NCAA champion coach, only a year into his three-year contract with UST, said the players are the ones affected the most.
"Ang daming distractions. And yung distractions na yun, naapektuhan din ang mga players at ang mga laro nila," he said.
The Sorsogon-born mentor said that he and his staff have been focused on training the Growling Tigers as early as November.
"Maaga nga kaming nagsimula eh. November pa lang, nagpa-practice na kami. Yung ilan pa sa mga ito, nag-Pasko pa sa amin sa Sorsogon dahil yun ang gusto naming mangyari eh, na maaga kaming mabuo," said the youthful bench tactician.
The Growling Tigers finished sixth with a 5-9 card in UAAP Season 81 behind rookie CJ Cansino.
The Tigers then went on a 4-0 start in the PBA D-League, banking on newcomers Mark Nonoy, Rhenz Abando and Beninese forward Soulemane Chabi Yo, before falling short of the quarterfinals.
They won only two of the final five games in the developmental league, getting eliminated on Thursday with an 81-74 loss to Family Mart-Enderun on Thursday.
The Growling Tigers have also been on a slide in the 2019 Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup, going 1-3 in the summer tournament which Ayo attributed to the distractions.
"Syempre, as much as sabihin naming ipagwalang bahala yung mga ganoong usapin, na wag na nilang isipin, bata pa rin yang mga yan and it affects them, it stays on their minds," he said.
"Us coaches, we're being strong also. We know we have to set the tone. We have to be strong for them at kailangan naming ipakita sa kanila na hindi kami naaapektuhan, na kung ano man ang binuo namin since November, walang nagbago, na tulad ng sinabi namin mula noon, laban lang," he said.
"Whatever it is, we have to continue working hard and that is to prepare for the UAAP."
The players also haven't shied away from voicing their support to Ayo.
"Hindi aalis si coach Aldin. Hindi rin kami aalis sa pagsuporta sa kanya," said one player who asked for anonymity. "Buti na lang din po na may mga nagsasalita nang alumni and parents na nakakaalam sa nangyayari."
"Nandito lang kami kasama nina coach Aldin," added another current Growling Tiger.
Shaky as the situation is, Ayo remains resolute in his mission to bring UST back this year to the Final Four, a first since 2015.
"I'm confident we can overcome this, kasi kung hindi, baka kung saan kami pupulutin," he said. "Pero kilala ko ang mga players ko, kaya namin ito. And we will do our job to prepare for the UAAP season."