MANILA, Philippines – Last year, the UST Growling Tigers waited 13 games – virtually the entire UAAP Season 80 – before they got their first and only win against fellow cellar-dweller UE Red Warriors.
The coaching staff got on their knees in tears amid the booming beats of the famed “Go, Uste!” chant.
Despite still recording their worst win-loss slate in the Final Four era, UST at least avoided their first winless season.
This season, however, has been the year of change for the rebuilding program. In just their second game under new head coach Aldin Ayo, the rookie-laden Tigers shocked the veterans of the FEU Tamaraws with a hard-fought 76-74 win.
Just like that, they’ve matched last season's win total.
Ayo, despite calling the shots for La Salle last season, felt the pain of the UST community, whose attendance in live games gradually vanished as their team’s losses piled on and on.
As such, he couldn’t help but let his emotions go in the post-game press conference.
“Last year, even though I was in a different team [and] I have to do my job, I still felt the community of UST,” he continued. “Lots of my friends are there, that’s why I transferred here. I just want to help this university.”
Even after Ayo moved to España with his championship experience from both La Salle and the NCAA’s Letran Knights, the near future still looked bleak as they fizzled out in an uneventful FilOil Preseason Cup.
“‘Yung mga preseason kasi ‘di kami nabubuo eh,” Ayo shared. “Actually, to be honest nabuo lang kami three days before the opening eh. Good thing na ‘yung mga ‘di nag-eensayo, nakukuha pa rin nila ‘yung sistema. Kahit injured, kahit may mga obligations sa academics, good thing nagagawa nila off the court. Gusto lang namin mangyari sana as the season progresses ay maka-adjust ‘yung players.”
(We never got a complete roster in the preseason. To be honest, we just got to practice as a complete team three days before the opening. Good thing that those who weren’t able to practice still got the system. Despite injuries and obligations to academics, good thing they were able to adapt off the court. All we want as the season progresses is further adjustment from the players.)
As one of four holdovers from last season’s roster, team captain Marvin Lee just wants to move forward.
“Di naman pwede i-compare kasi dami nawala from last year’s lineup tapos ngayon mga bago,” he said. “Stick pa rin kami sa kung anong ibibigay na system para sa amin.”
(We can’t compare because many from last year’s lineup already left and there are a lot of new players. We’ll just stick to our system.)
Indeed, it’s a new dawn for the Tigers, and they just proved they’re ready to roar once more.– Rappler.com