ROOKIE coach Aldin Ayo was the man of the hour in Letran’s dramatic championship win over San Beda in the NCAA finals on Thursday night.
And to think, this was the same guy who wasn’t allowed entry by the school guards the first day he went to the Intramuros campus as new coach of the Knights.
“The first time that I went to Letran as coach, hindi ako pinapasok ng guard,” Ayo said smiling. “Nung hindi ako pinapasok ng guwardiya, sabi ko, hindi to magiging madali.”
No one among the current players had an idea on who Ayo was when he took on the coaching job vacated by Caloy Garcia.
“Nung una ‘di ko talaga kilala si coach. Hindi talaga,” senior forward Kevin Racal admitted. “Tagal na kasi nung huli siya naglaro sa Letran.
‘Yung mga utility namin, ‘yun ung nagsabi na siya ang magiging coach namin. Tingin ko kay coach dati, nakakatakot kasi hindi siya marunong mag-smile.”
Ayo was the unassuming back-up guard of the Knights in the late 90s who was part of a team that won back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999 under two different coaches — Louie Alas and Binky Favis.
He had for his teammates the likes of Kerby Raymundo, John Paul Prior, Billy Moody, Allan Salangsang, among others.
But unlike his celebrated teammates, Ayo didn't pursue a professional career and instead reteated to his hometown in Sorsogon City. Ayo didn't resurface again until he was named to the Letran job.
Now he is the toast of college basketball after steering the Knights to their first ever NCAA title in a decade while ending the Red Lions’ five-year reign with a thrilling 85-82 overtime win in the deciding game of the best-of-three title series.
“At least, maganda ‘yung kinalabasan,” noted Racal.
Ayo used to be an unknown, but he certainly knew what he was doing. As soon as the team began to take shape, Ayo was firm in his belief that Letran had the pieces to win it all right in his first year on the job.
But it took a while for him to convince the team.
“Nung sinabi ko na naniniwala akong kayang mag-champion, many of them laughed. Hindi pa nagsi-sink in until na lang na matalo namin ‘yung JRU sa second game namin sa eliminations, saka na lang naniwala.
"After namin talunin ‘yung mga contenders, doon lang nakapagsabi na kaya pala,” said Ayo. “We kept working hard and kept motivating them,” he said.