Instead of feeling the pressure for the tournament favorite tag, La Salle coach Aldin Ayo believes the Green Archers should be doubly motivated to live up to their lofty billing in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament.
Back with an already potent lineup that has been further boosted by the entry of highly-touted Cameroonian center Ben Mbala, the Green Archers have been considered by many as the overwhelming favorites to win the men’s championships for the first time since 2013.
The 38-year-old Ayo sounded confident that his wards can rise up to the challenge.
“Wherever you go, there’s always pressure. Pressure is inevitable. But for me, every time you get pressured, it opens up opportunities and pressure motivates us,” he told sports scribes on Tuesday during the league’s formal press launch at the Hotel Novotel in Araneta Center, Quezon City.
After steering Letran to its first NCAA men’s cage title in a decade at the expense of arch rival San Beda last year, Ayo made a stunning move by accepting the Green Archers’ coaching job last December following the resignation of Juno Sauler.
Sauler led La Salle to the “Promised Land” three years ago.
While his transfer left a bitter taste in the mouth for many die-hard Letran supporters, Ayo appeared to have already moved on, his eyes focused on helping La Salle regain its lost throne in the country’s premier collegiate league.
“If I had stayed at Letran, there’s always the pressure to repeat. Now that I’m here in La Salle, we have that pressure to win,” he noted. “But it’s an opportunity. If you handle it well, then it can open up lots of opportunities.”
While most of its rivals, led by reigning titlist Far Eastern U, lost several vital cogs due to graduation, La Salle will set out for another title campaign loaded with superior power on both ends with the 6-foot-7 Mbala, star wingman Jeron Teng, vastly-improved big man Abu Tratter and veteran playmaker Thomas Torres leading the way.
Asked what the team’s main strength is, Ayo said: “Ugali, character. They are the hardest working guys na isa lang ang objective—manalo. Lahat rin naman ng suporta andu’n. Everything’s provided.”
“I can say we have everything. We can go to the post, or play small,” he added. “It’s just a matter of our willingness to win. With the materials that we have, I believe andu’n lahat. Pero ang importante diyan ‘yung approach sa laro.”
Being considered as favorites, far from what he experienced with the Knights during their Cinderella finish, isn’t enough to lose Ayo’s appetite for winning.
“It’s totally the opposite when I was in Letran. Nobody expected us to achieve anything and no one knows my system before. This time, there will be no surprise factor. Everybody’s going to prepare against us. Totally the opposite but it’s just the same thing. Whether you’re playing or coaching in basketball, the first thing you always want to do is win,” he pointed out.
Aware of the mounting pressure to deliver immediately, Ayo is excited to prove his true worth.
“If you win, matutuwa ka. If you lose, hindi ka matutuwa. It’s as simple as that. Grabe ang expectations pero every time na ganun ang sitwasyon, if you take it positively, it will motivate you even more,” he added.
The Green Archers will kick off their campaign against the Tamaraws on September 7 at the Mall of Asia Arena and Ayo couldn’t wait any longer.
“Palaban naman ang lahat ng ‘to. We’re already prepared for that and we’re just excited. Doon agad magkakaalam kung ano ang mayroon,” he said. – Jerome Lagunzad
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