Ayo banking on newcomers to help UST's cause

Ayo banking on newcomers to help UST's cause

MANILA, Philippines — After a bridesmaid finish in the last UAAP finals, what does the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers do for an encore?

The Espana-based cagers go right back at it and try to not only return to the finals, but to win it all. Only this time, they aren’t ambushing anyone. Everyone knows what they are all about. Furthermore, there will be the weight of expectations.

The have the hugely talented Renz Abando — who will be better after a year of UAAP experience tucked under his belt — the dazzling Mark Nonoy, the fearless CJ Cansino, the quiet operator in Dave Ando, and and league Most Valuable Player Soulemane Chabi Yo. Brent Paraiso should be back for one last go-around.

However, isn’t it unfair especially if the Tigers have lost two vital players in Renzo Subido and Zach Huang? That isn’t only scoring and defense, but also all that experience that they soaked in.

Aldin Ayo, now in his third year as UST coach, will look to beef up his squad with some newcomers that include Ateneo de Cebu’s Christian Manaytay, who left La Salle after being dropped in favor of their one-and-done Fil-Americans; Paul Manalang, who is the younger brother of Philip and who we last saw also with the University of the East; and former Mapua Red Robin Bryan Samudio. If they can bring up Bismarck Lina from UST’s high school team, then they will add a strong inside player with loads of Batang Gilas experience. And the kid has an excellent attitude. 

Joshua Fontanilla and Clint Escamis are still a year away from suiting up for the Growling Tigers after they serve out their residency.

Manalang is just like his older brother Phil in terms of feistiness. His older brother can score some, but Paul is a more team-oriented player. Manaytay will add more ceiling to this team and help out Chabi Yo and Ando. 

I think UST will be a much better team for all the big game experience they soaked in. Imagine that… coming out of nowhere to tug on Ateneo’s Superman cape. And they dispatched two higher seeds in Far Eastern University and then highly-fancied University of the Philippines to make the finals. That is a testament to Aldin Ayo’s coaching chops and the quality of players they have. And they did it with far less money than all the other programs. 

Whatever it is, Ayo and UST will hope to build on their gains from last season if they want to bring this program back to its glory days (they are 0-4 in finals match-ups since 2006). 

We should get our first look at this team when they suit up for the coming PBA D-League.

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