OH, how the mighty have fallen.
Ace playmaker and reigning Rookie of the Year Mark Nonoy and guard Deo Cuajao bid University of Santo Tomas goodbye yesterday and said they are joining La Salle.
In a lengthy Instagram post, the 5-foot-8 Nonoy thanked the Growling Tigers community and former coach Aldin Ayo for giving him the chance to play and prove his worth with the team.
“Unang-una po sa lahat, nagpapasalamat po ako ng buong puso sa buong UST community, na binigyan niyo po ako ng opportunity na ipakita po kung anong galing mayroon ako and I’m very thankful sa lahat ng coaching staff lalong-lalo na po sa kay coach Aldin Ayo na nagtiwalang kumuha sa kin mula sa province to Manila at nagbigay sakin ng kumpiyansa pagdating sa court at sa pagguide niya sa akin kahit off the court upang maging mabuting tao,” said Nonoy.
“Habambuhay ko tatanawin ang utang na loob ko po sa kanya kasi kung hindi dahil sa kanya wala po ako sa kinatatayuan ko ngayon,” he added.
As of yesterday, Nonoy and Caujao were finalizing their transfer and were set to meet Green Archers chief backer and presidential son-in-law Atty. Manases “Mans” Carpio.
Nonoy averaged 11.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in the last UAAP cage wars.
The uncertainty of UST’s fate amid allegations that Ayo and his players breached the government’s stringent COVID-19 health protocols when they held a bubble training in Capuy, Sorsogon City from mid-June to August prompted Nonoy to leave the squad.
“Napakabigat man para sa loob ko, kinakailangan ko ng katiyakan sa aking career para makapag-focus ulit sa basketball. Dahil ilang weeks na akong binabagabag ng kung ano ang kahihinatnan ng atin team,” he said.
“Ano man natutunan ko sa UST dadalhin ko iyan habambuhay saan man ako mapunta. Akin po munang kokonsultahin ang aking pamilya para sa mga susunod na hakbang na aming gagawin.”
Ayo resigned as Tigers coach last Sept. 4 and was slapped an indefinite ban from all league events and activities by the UAAP last Sept. 9.
The España-based crew finished with an 8-6 card after the elimination round in the last season for fourth and beat No. 3 Far Eastern University and second-ranked University of the Philippines in the stepladder semifinals to advance to the finals for the first time since 2015.
The Tigers, however, were swept by Ateneo in the Big Dance.
Former skipper CJ Cansino, who transferred to the Fighting Maroons; star forward Rhenz Abando, guard Brent Paraiso, and big man Ira Bataller have also left the team.
Abando, Paraiso, and Bataller moved to defending NCAA champion Letran, while reserve guard Jun Asuncion went to Mapua University.
With the exodus of the UST players, reigning MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo, shooters Sherwin Concepcion and Miguel Pangilinan, and big man Dave Ando are the only remnants of last year’s team.
Nonoy, who bagged the UAAP juniors’ MVP award in 2018 as a Tiger Cub, and Caujao will have to serve the league-required one-year residency, along with another prized addition in former San Beda University standout Evan Nelle, before they could suit up in the 84th season.
Nonoy and Caujao are still eligible to play for three years for UST.
With the lingering health perils and uncertainties brought about by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the UAAP is eyeing to launch its 83rd season, set to be hosted by La Salle, early next year.
The Archers had secured the commitments of forwards CJ Austria of University of the East High School, and Emman Galman of Perpetual High School, and Fil-Am brothers Benjamin and Michael Phillips, both 6-foot-8 big men.
Lanky center Justine Baltazar, guards Aljun Melecio, Encho Serrano, Jordan Bartlett, and Kurt Lojera, forward Tyrus Hill, and 6-foot-11 Senegalese big man Amadou Ndiaye are expected to lead La Salle’s bid to win its first title since 2016.