FOR University of Santo Tomas coach Aldin Ayo, Soulemane Chabi Yo winning the MVP and Mark Nonoy claiming the Rookie of the Year honors would mean a lot for the program he's building in Espana.
"It would be big for the program," he told Spin.ph. "Us having players winning those awards show that we're able to develop and get the best out of the players that we have."
The Beninese Chabi Yo has been on a tear this UAAP Season 82, averaging 16.9 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists to establish himself as an all-around threat despite being the smallest among the foreign student-athletes this season at 6-foot-6.
Nonoy, on the other hand, has had a memorable rookie season, with the La Carlota, Negros Occidental native netting 10.0 points, 3.8 boards, and 2.3 dimes in his first year for the Growling Tigers in the eliminations.
"Yung players, di nila iniisip 'yun kasi 'yung mata nila, nandoon sa game namin," said Ayo ahead of UST's knockout showdown against Far Eastern University on Wednesday in the first of the stepladder semifinals.
It's already quite an achievement for these young Growling Tigers to reach the Final Four after missing the playoffs for the past three years.
But they aren't content, with the Sorsogon-born mentor trying to do everything in his power to prepare his wards for the crucial matchup against the Tamaraws.
"Preparation yung magiging susi sa amin kasi they have to remember what we have to do," said Ayo, whose squad also went through a team building the past few days at Pradera Verde in Pampanga.
"Importante yun sa amin na we keep our focus on our goals, lalo na bata itong team na ito. First time nilang ma-experience na makalaro sa Final Four, so it's important for us na we're able to compete."
Still, Ayo sees no team having the clear advantage in the matchup.
UST and FEU split their elimination-round meetings, with the Growling Tigers taking the 82-74 win last September 22, and the Tamaraws responding with a 72-58 victory back on October 13.
"Fifty-fifty ito," he said. "Pantay lang ang labanan. Magkakatalo na lang pagdating sa laro, basta sa akin, 50-50 ito."