‘Beat them at their best’: Letran prepares for Game 2 against San Beda

Ceej Tantengco on Oct 25, 2015 09:51 AM
Letran Coach Ayo: ‘Beat them at their best’
“This is our chance to leave a legacy. Let’s beat San Beda at their best.” -- Letran coach Aldin Ayo

“This is special.”

The Letran Knights’ first practice after beating the San Beda Red Lions for Game 1 of the NCAA Season 91 Finals began with Coach Aldin Ayo reminding his players of what’s at stake.

“Noong panahon na nag-back-to-back championship kami [in 1998-99], we also had to break a five-peat streak [against San Sebastian]. But this is San Beda,” Ayo said. “And during our time, nag-graduate na ‘yung mga malalakas sa kalaban. People were expecting Letran to win. You have a chance to do it while San Beda’s key players are still there.”

It won’t be easy, though.

The Red Lions may have played a running game that worked to Letran’s advantage last Friday, but it would be foolish to assume the five-peat champs would make no adjustments after that loss. They’re larger, have a deep bench, and have more experience in the finals.

“Nanliliit kami, sa totoo lang,” said Jom Sollano, the 6’4” center. “Pero sabi sa amin ni Coach, ‘ang basketball, hindi palaging nadadaan sa laki.’”

Ayo himself slept at 3:00 AM, thinking about Letran’s game plan moving forward. Without going into specifics, he said: “Our priorities stay the same. Depensa palagi ang magdadala. Syempre, San Beda will adjust based on our last game.

“Right now it’s a guessing game—I’m guessing what Coach Jamike will do, and he’s guessing what I will do,” added Ayo. “The real adjustments happen on Tuesday. Doon magkakaalaman.”

As a coach, Ayo’s philosophy is based on his experience as a player. He’s strict during practice, but laidback during games. “Wala namang nag-e-enjoy na pinapagalitan. Basketball is an instinctive game, and you lose that spontaneity when your players aren’t having fun,” he explained.

Bonding, then, is crucial to the team. They celebrate wins with eat-all-you-can dinners. The entire team sleeps over in the dorm before each game. Keeping egos in check and fostering the right attitude among players is a top priority for the coaches. “Bawal mayabang dito,” said Ayo.

For the rookies on the squad, the chance to end Letran’s 10-year championship drought is a dream come true. Former Letran Squire and Batang Gilas player Jerrick Balanza pointed at the championship banners hanging in the gym where they hold each practice. “2005 pa ‘yung huling banner dito. Sana malagay din kami dito,” he said.

A special guest dropped by practice: Fr. Ed Alaurin, who was the athletics director when Letran last won back-to-back titles. “Embrace being the underdog,” he told the Knights. “You are a small team, but you can do big things.”

Nobody knows this better than “Ant-Man” Mark Cruz, who at 5’5” is a key player for Letran and is bound for the pros. “Hindi mo maalis na mas malaki mga kalaban namin. Pero I turn that pressure into motivation. As a leader of the team, dapat matapang ako,” said Mark.

The San Beda Red Lions may be two wins away from making history with the league’s first ever six-peat, but the Knights are just one win away from making history of their own.

“We’re making a mark here. I’m not talking about Mark Cruz,” said Ayo as the Knights stood in the middle of their home court. The players smiled, then turn serious. “This is our chance to leave a legacy. Let’s beat San Beda at their best.”


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