Following another early exit in UAAP Season 78 and the departure of Juno Sauler as head coach, apprehension and uncertainty clouded the fate of the DLSU Green Archers and their storied tradition. On the other side of the spectrum, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights were crowned champions in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Guiding them to championship glory was a rookie coach with an unheralded story- Aldin Ayo.
Much to the allure of Philippine collegiate basketball lore, an unlikely partnership would soon take place between the Green Archers and Ayo as they would eventually cross paths, with Ayo taking the helm for La Salle this upcoming season in the hopes of bringing the title back to Taft. The LaSallian sat down with the new head coach of DLSU to talk about his beginnings and his championship aspirations for the team this year.
Basketball as an avenue
Ayo hails from Sorsogon City, where he is set to serve his third consecutive term as councilor in the city’s West District. While growing up, he was introduced to the game of basketball by the environment of his hometown and through his uncles.
“Nag-iisa akong anak and wala akong tatay. My father died when I was five months old. Nakita ko yung basketball as an avenue para makapunta ako sa ibang lugar,” shares Ayo. “It took me to places, it took me to mga sitwasyon na hindi ko ma-expect na maparating ko eh. It took me to La Salle, I’m very grateful for being here.”
Being a seminarian, he received his formation at the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Seminary. With multiple commitments on his plate, Ayo stressed the essence of time management and prioritizing tasks.
A habit of success
Before coaching, he played point guard for the Letran Knights from 1998-2001, winning back-to-back NCAA titles. “After kasi ng playing years ko [in Letran], hindi na ako nagpadraft sa PBA because of my injury. I helped my mother with our business,” Ayo shares.
Ayo currently holds a remarkable feat that is virtually unheard of. In every debut season as head coach, the AB-Philosophy major has managed to steer all his teams to a championship. Ayo decided to try his hand in coaching in 2008. He first mentored Aemilianum College, aiding the Somascan effort of helping out-of-school youth boys. In his coaching debut, Ayo led underdogs Aemilianum to the championship in Sorsogon.
“We won against a team na pang three-peat sa championship,” he recounts. “That was a very big achievement. After winning, that was when I realized na baka ito na yung calling ko na tulungan ang mga bata.”
After his stint with Aemilianum, he set up the Ayo Basketball Clinic- information, demonstration, explanation, and application of skills also known as ABC IDEAS. Ayo taught the game of basketball to kids for free as a means of values formation. He carried on his feat, of winning a championship in every single debut season with the different age groups of his basketball academy.
“Simula nung Aemilianum, U-12, U-14, U-15, U-17, commercial [league], lahat ng teams na hinawakan ko, including Letran. On our first year, champion kami sa mother leagues namin,” shares the head coach.
Knight in shining armor
Fast forward to the year 2015, when Ayo was put in charge of his alma mater. In his NCAA coaching debut, the rookie coach had managed to steer the overmatched Knights to the title. That year, Letran had won its first title in a decade over the San Beda Red Lions. The Knights not only ended their decade-long title drought, but they also denied their rivals from taking home an unprecedented sixth straight championship.
While potential back-to-back titles or even a dynasty seemed to be brewing for the team from Intramuros, Ayo had made a personal decision to no longer return to coach the Knights. Coming from the province, Ayo pointed to at the fast pace of living in Metro Manila and family reasons as some of the factors behind his decision to stop coaching.
However, after receiving an opportunity to take the place of Sauler in La Salle, Ayo had a change of heart. “Nung tumawag sa akin yung La Salle, sabi ko, different environment, different situation. Ito susubukan ko.”
The Green Archers have embraced Ayo’s defensive-oriented system, and won all 10 of their games to clinch the Filoil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup. Among the team’s notable victories are those against NCAA powerhouses Letran and San Beda, defending UAAP champions FEU, and a gutsy Arellano squad.
As a coach, Ayo has incorporated his coaching style with his undergraduate thesis, which focused on the oriental philosophy of Lao Tzu, a seemingly unlikely foundation that has since worked marvels for his teams. This passive approach of governance through non-governance has been a key fixture for the mild-mannered Ayo, who is also known for his motivational presence in the locker room and in every timeout.
Alluding to this unorthodox method, he mentions, “Palagi kong hinahayaan ko silang maglaro, pero siyempre sa akin naman, before you do that […], you just make sure ma-establish yung sistema.”
Living up to his college degree, Ayo considers himself as a deep thinker, someone who would rather listen and observe the breaks of the game rather than respond sporadically and bark his instructions to his team.
“Ako, yung approach ko palagi [when I’m coaching], I always consider myself as a student [of the game first],” he explains. “Because, [in philosophy], the learning does not stop. The more you know the more you do not know. Kasi every time you know something, you’re opening windows to other ideas na talagang palaki ng palaki. So you don’t stop.”
The Letran graduate stated, that he is expecting to take home the title in the upcoming season, saying, “The mere fact that we’re joining the competition, we’re expecting to win. Otherwise, why join the competition?”
Ayo explained further, that the bar set is not based on the upcoming team’s talent or depth. With or without the vital cogs in his team, Ayo simply stated that he means business.
“Kung may talent ‘man o wala, I’m going to figure it out,” he says. “I’m going to find a way to win. Yan ang kompetisyon.”