ALDIN Ayo knew what he's getting the moment he took his act to University of Santo Tomas.
Tasked to rebuild the Growling Tigers from their horror showing in the past two seasons, the Sorsogon-born mentor had no other choice but to dismantle the team and fix it from the ground up.
And a big chunk of that entailed him to do focus on recruitment, as he was forced to fasttrack the process this UAAP Season 81 with young guns on hand.
"We're a very young team with nine rookies," he said. "These rookies are not bluechips eh. Yung mga rookies are still adjusting, hindi lang sa laro, pati sa venues. Yung iba dito, first time lang makapasok at makalaro sa Araneta at sa MOA, so malaking bagay yung adjustment kasi nagugulat sila eh."
As tough as that process is, Ayo was happy that slowly, things are coming together for his side.
That couldn't be more evident than on Wednesday, when UST scored a stunning 76-74 victory over contender Far Eastern University for its first win of the tournament.
"Good thing na ngayon, nailabas nila yung laro nila at maganda ang naging resulta para sa amin," he said.
CJ Cansino, Joshua Marcos, Nat Cosejo, Germy Mahinay, and Ken Zamora all chipped in to help make the upset a reality, and for these neophytes, trusting Ayo's system made the difference for them in their first win of the tourney despite their inexperience.
"Sobrang saya kasi ang tagal naming pinaghirapan ito, almost ilang months kaya sobrang saya ng feeling," said Cansino of his first W as a member of the Growling Tigers.
Coming off a stellar debut over the weekend, the UAAP Season 80 Juniors MVP was solid in his second game in the seniors division, collecting seven points, 10 rebounds, and two assists in the conquest.
"Gagawin ko lang mga pinapagawa ni coach, which is mag-compete and hustle lang," added Marcos, who was the spark for UST with 11 of his 12 points coming in the first half, on top of three rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block.
Marcos, who is coming off an NCAA juniors championship with CSB-La Salle Greenhills, couldn't be more grateful with how Ayo has helped in his transition to the college level.
"Tinututukan niya ako. Galing akong big man noong high school kaya inaayos niya yung individual skills ko. Sinasabi niya sa akin yung rebounds lang kasi yun yung isa sa matutulong ko sa team," he said.
For Cosejo, who did his damage on the defensive end with seven rebounds and a block, UST has imbibed Ayo's fearless attitude -- one which it leans on when it comes to preparing for this season's powerhouse teams.
"Sinasabi lang ni coach na wag naming isipin na bata kami, na lumaban lang kami," he said.
And these young turks aren't one to let Ayo down.
"Pinagkatiwalaan ako ni coach Aldin at pinakita ko lang na di ko yun sasayangin," said Mahinay, who accounted for two points and eight rebounds while going toe-to-toe against Tamaraws big man Prince Orizu.
"Sinabi ko sa sarili ko, ipapakita ko kung anong magagawa ko at kung anong maitutulong ko sa team. Nilakasan ko lang yung loob ko, na kahit anong mangyari, ibibigay ko pa rin yung best ko para sa team."
So was for Ken Zamora, who aside from contributing five points, three rebounds, and two assists, scored the game-icing layup with 18.5 seconds left that put the game out of reach, 76-71.
"Hindi kami takot na magkamali kasi laging nandyan si coach Aldin para suportahan ka at bigyan ng chance na bumawi," said the transferee from Arellano who was 1-of-7 from the field before his big bucket late.
"Sobrang thankful ako kay coach kasi sobrang grabe yung tiwala niya sa amin. Kumbaga, sa sobrang laki ng tiwala namin sa kanya, kailangan mong gawin yung best mo eh."
If there's one thing these UST rookies learned from this triumph, it's that they have to do whatever it takes to get the victory.
"Wala akong pakialam kung pangit man yung laro ko o maganda basta manalo kami," said Cansino. "Kung talo nga pero maganda yung laro ko, ako lang yung masaya. Pero kung manalo, lahat kami masaya at buong UST masaya."
Marcos added: "Hindi kami mag-stop dito. Masarap sa feeling kaya mas paghihirapan pa namin lalo."