New beginnings always generate a certain level of excitement. Part of it is the venture to the unknown, which while scary can be exciting when it comes with a fresh perspective. Other times it’s the element of surprise that keeps everyone guessing, further adding to the anticipation of what could happen.
At the conclusion of the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup, the Converge FiberXers made a coaching change, replacing Jeffrey Cariaso, who was with the team since it was known as the Alaska Aces, with Aldin Ayo. Ayo is a fresh face not because he came from the college ranks, but because he comes with no PBA head coaching experience. PBA head coaches are more often than not retreads and what Ayo brings to the table can certainly spice things up.
Ayo got his first win as a PBA head coach when the FiberXers used a strong run in the third quarter to blow by the Terrafirma Dyip. Seven players scored in double figures as Converge was able to overcome Lester Prosper’s 43-point, 25-rebound effort.
The win itself was a milestone for Ayo, but the FiberXers set a few records while handing out one to the Dyip as well.
The numbers alone pointed to the differences in the way Ayo and Cariaso run their respective squads. Ayo’s team scored 124 points in the win over Terrafirma, while Cariaso’s team in the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup scored 100 points or more only twice in the conference and never finished a game with more than 112 points.
Sure, some will point out that this is just one game, and yes one game should not be the sole barometer for a season, but the attempts alone should signal the change in philosophy. When Cariaso was in charge, Converge averaged 30.8 3-point attempts in the 2022 All-Filipino conference, whereas Ayo made the FiberXers attempt 43 3-pointers against the Dyip.
This type of basketball is what will be expected of an Ayo-led squad that has been associated with the terms “chaos” and of course, “mayhem”. The rise in 3-point attempts certainly adds to the pace and when they are converted, lead to a more open floor that can lead to inside baskets. On defense, Ayo’s teams try to be physical in order to offset any disadvantages in height or heft. The turnovers they generate result in fastbreak opportunities that result in backbreaking threes or momentum-crushing scores. All of that will naturally take its toll on the Converge’s opponents, but let’s not forget that Ayo’s system also requires that his players be in great shape.
What has of course been a major factor in the FiberXers’ quick assimilation into Ayo’s system has been the fact that four players from the Converge squad for the 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup played for Ayo back in college. Kevin Racal was part of Ayo’s Letran Knights team that won the NCAA Season championship over the San Beda Red Lions, Jeron Teng, Aljun Melecio, and Abu Tratter were under Ayo’s tutelage during the DLSU Green Archers’ dominant title run in UAAP Season 79. It thus won’t be surprising if the FiberXers continue to acquire players familiar with Ayo’s system during his stints with Letran, La Salle and the UST Growling Tigers in order to speed up the process moving forward.
Older teams could struggle in keeping in pace with Converge, but it’s the smarter and more defensively disciplined teams that will test the mettle of the new-look FiberXers. It will be interesting to see how Converge adjusts when their shots aren’t falling. Attempting 3-pointers and pushing the pace can only go so far if it does not lead to opportunities to exploit mismatches and put as many points on the board. Running teams out of the gym can be a blunt tool, when the circumstances call for something more precise.
For the Converge FiberXers, what a difference a conference makes. Having Aldin Ayo at the helm has changed the pace and will likely change how other PBA teams view the FiberXers but it should make for interesting times in what is shaping to be a competitive PBA Commissioner’s Cup.