Coach Aldin Ayo’s search for personal growth continues

Losses sting for fierce competitors. They may never admit it, but with the way they act after a lost game, their frustration is as clear as the blue sky. It can be expressed through a crushed paper cup or a broken whiteboard. For others, it can be as simple as a straight face. For some, it can be by avoiding interviews from the media.

From Seasons 79 to 80, Aldin Ayo was the UAAP personality that was infamous for avoiding the media the most after a tough loss. It even reached a point during Season 80 when he wouldn’t attend postgame press conferences, even during wins. It was understandable for Ayo to avoid the hot seat, especially to answer questions about a loss. But it made the job much more difficult for writers and reporters who needed to do their job.

Something changed on September 8, 2018, the opening day of UAAP Season 81.

Ayo, fresh from his coaching debut with the UST Growling Tigers had just lost a close game to the NU Bulldogs. Media members already knew the drill from the previous seasons: an interview with the extremely competitive coach was unlikely. But the percentages never stopped them from trying to grab an interview.

Surprisingly, Ayo obliged the media’s request to talk. Even more mesmerizing was how at peace he looked, even after losing a game he wanted to win with his new team. It turns out, he felt calm because he had found something he’s always wanted by coaching the Growling Tigers.

“Ito hinahanap ko eh. Personal growth,” said Ayo after the loss. “Mas maganda yung nag-istrugggle, kasi everytime you struggle, you learn from it, and you grow as an individual also.”

It wasn’t the response members of the media expected, but it was one they certainly welcomed. After all, being realistic about it, Ayo needed to accept the struggle, since the UST team he was handling was far from the finished product he had in La Salle a season ago. It turns out, he didn’t just accept the pain; he straight up embraced it and took it to heart.

“It’s a challenge but we are up to it. I am up to it,” said Ayo. “This will make me better. At the same time, natutulungan ko yung university.

Help the university he did. The Growling Tigers improved from a dismal 1-13 record from Season 80, to a promising 5-9 finish after Season 81. In fact, if it weren’t for a CJ Cansino ACL injury against the UP Fighting Maroons in the second round, the Growling Tigers might have competed for a slot in the Final Four. They were a competitive bunch, but more importantly, they were improving every single game.

Ayo’s Mayhem system was in full effect. Outside of the brilliance the system provides for different lineups, UST fans were also treated to the development and growth of the young Growling Tigers. “That’s being a coach eh. Na natututo yung players,” Ayo added.

There’s this misconception of Mayhem being solely a pressing defense. The development of UST’s players that season debunked all of these assumptions. Cansino transformed from promising slashing forward to all-around, elite wing. Renzo Subido went from spitfire guard to steady court general. That’s what Mayhem is all about; an unpredictable platform where players can freely do what they’re naturally good at for the betterment of their entire team.

His system on the court was aligned with what he believed in off it. Ayo graduated with a degree in Philosophy and he applied his learning from the classroom to the teams he’s handled. During his time in Letran, he talked about his belief in Wu wei by Lao Tzu. According to Elizabeth Reninger of Learn Religions, “Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world.”

Simply put, Wu wei invites us to go with the flow and respond to certain situations as calmly and as naturally as possible. The Mayhem system of Ayo fit these ideals of Wu wei. Season 81 was indication that the Growling Tigers were starting to go with their natural flow, and that ended up helping them grow as a team.

UST used their first season with Aldin as a springboard by putting together an amazing Season 82 run. More than making it to the Finals for the first time in four years, what was more astonishing was the continued growth of the members of the team.

Mark Nonoy, Rhenz Abando, and Chabi Chabi Yo cemented themselves as superstars during their rookie years in the UAAP. Cansino, despite rust from an ACL injury, found ways to contribute, even with the added talent.  Then there was Subido, whose newfound leadership and confidence catapulted him from steady court general to Tomasino legend. His shot against the UP Fighting Maroons will forever live on in the hearts of the UST community.

Finally, there was Ayo, who looked so much more at peace even after losing to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the Finals.

It may have not been the result he wanted, but the journey to get there was aligned with what he believed in; Wu wei. Go with the flow. From rebuilding a team from scratch, to a promising first year, then finishing as second place the year after, the Growling Tigers and Ayo were on the right track. There was something with this program and the approach Ayo was undertaking.

The script had flipped for Aldin Ayo. From being the fiery coach that once tried to force glasses on a referee, he became the emotional rock of a rapidly improving UST squad. Back then, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before he was back on top of the UAAP.

Then disaster struck on the month of August 2020. After a domino of events starting with Cansino transfer’s to the UP Fighting Maroons, it was revealed that Ayo and the Growling Tigers had been in Sorsogon for two months, in what is now known as the Bicol Bubble. By holding training in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ayo and the Growling Tigers had violated quarantine protocols. We can talk about legalities and reasons behind doing such a thing, but the simple fact of the matter is, what Ayo and the team did was wrong.

Most importantly, the very concept of a Bicol Bubble was against everything Aldin had believed in the first place. Wu wei was all about going with the flow. The Growling Tigers had that by taking the right steps in building their program. Holding a bubble in the middle of a pandemic? It’s far from right. It wasn’t what the natural ebb of things asked of us. The mandate was to stay at home and practice social distancing, not go to Sorsogon and hold basketball practice.

Just like that, everything the Growling Tigers had built was gone.

Cansino was gone.

Abando was gone.

Brent Paraiso, Ira Bataller also gone.

Then, Ayo was gone. He was slapped an indefinite ban from UAAP events by the Board of Trustees.

Losses sting for fierce competitors. This most recent loss by Ayo has to be the biggest of his career. A crushed cup of Gatorade or a straight face won’t be enough to escape the pain. Walking away from it as if reporters were chasing you won’t help.

He has to stare at this loss straight in the eye and hope he’s able to bounce back from it. To his credit, it looks like he’s taking the right steps at getting right back on track.

“I take responsibility for my actions and shall face the appropriate actions. And I shall go for a personal Retreat,” his resignation read.

Coach Aldin Ayo’s search for personal growth continues. Right now, his career as a basketball coach is in limbo. He has no other choice but to practice Wu wei; to go with the flow. Hopefully, sooner than later, he’s able to find his peace, no matter where that may be.