This must be déjà vu. Aljun Melecio is -- yet again -- Aldin Ayo's first recruit for his new team.
Converge FiberXers, and its brand new shot-caller Ayo, is getting the seldom-used guard and bruising big Kris Porter from Phoenix LPG in exchange for stretch big Ben Adamos and versatile wing Kurt Lojera.
"Masaya na malungkot. Siyempre, kahit papaano, grabe samahan namin sa Phoenix. Mula pandemic pa lang, nung training namin, sa Batangas pa, naging malaking parte sila ng buhay ko," answered Melecio, when asked about how he felt about the trade approved by the PBA Commissioner's office Friday.
"Mixed feelings, pero siyempre, excited din ako."
Through three conferences, the 5-foot-8 sophomore is yet to do anything to distinguish himself in the league.
It could even be argued that Adamos, a 6-foot-8 forward with shooting touch is the prize of the transaction, especially for the big-needy Fuel Masters.
For the FiberXers, meanwhile, Melecio -- and his per game counts of 4.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists last conference -- isn't necessarily a big get that'd move the needle.
Unless you're Ayo.
"Every time you go to war, you need your best soldiers," posted the fiery mentor on his social media accounts hours after news broke, most definitely feeling good about his first transaction.
Technically, Melecio isn't Converge's first get in this new era.
Import Quincy Miller actually came two weeks before him. The American, though, wasn't necessarily a request from Ayo, who himself only officially took the reins last month.
The fact of the matter is, Ayo's first ask from team management was Melecio -- exactly like how Melecio was the no. 1 priority for Ayo when he took over at the La Salle Green Archers.
"Siya talaga ang unang-unang pinaasikaso ko sa management pagpasok ko sa La Salle," shared the coach back in 2016. "Kilalang-kilala ko na kasi laro niya: magaling tapos matapang."
Aside from the fact that Melecio was one of the most promising prospects at that time -- and he was a rare homegrown product of La Salle -- Ayo made it a point to get him because their relationship actually goes way back to 2012, when both of them were still unknowns, when both of them were still hopefuls from the province.
That year, the young player from Bukidnon and the young coach from Sorsogon were part of the Jr. NBA program that took place in Shanghai, China. While they didn't bond just yet there, both acknowledged thinking that the other would get far in his career.
"Sa totoo lang, batang-bata pa ako nun e kaya wala rin ako masyado maalalang nag-uusap kaming dalawa. Basta nakilala ko siya at nakita kong magaling siyang coach ng mga bata," recalled Melecio. "Pagdating na lang ng La Salle, dun na nabuo yung samahan namin."
The seeds planted in the Jr. NBA blossomed into a fruitful tree once the two of them got to Taft Avenue.
As shot-caller and spitfire scorer for the Green Archers, they finished as champions in 2016 and runners-up in 2017. Those two seasons were, without a doubt, Melecio's most consistent and most impactful showings, as he averaged 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.1 steals.
"Since college, mas alam talaga ni coach Aldin yung laro ko and kaya ko gawin. Kaya ako na-excite ngayon e, gusto ko na makita kung paano niya ako mapapa-improve as a player sa pro na," explained Melecio.
"Yung relationship namin, parang tinadhana talaga e. From Jr. NBA to college, kami na, tapos dito sa pro, ito pinaka-unexpected, nandito na naman kami. Tadhana nga ata talaga."
A breakthrough right out the gates is, indeed, the result they're hoping for now in the PBA. Ayo would bring out the best in Melecio.
Melecio would help Ayo's transition to a new league, and another level. Both would help each other in, yet again, having to prove themselves.
For Melecio, that means translating his scoring prowess into a more meaningful role.
Already not the biggest of guards, he has an even taller task ahead of him as he'd have to fight for his minutes in a backcourt that already includes veterans Maverick Ahanmisi and Mike DiGregorio as well as fellow hungry young talents RK Ilagan and Alec Stockton.
That's just how he likes it, though.
"Nagpapasalamat ako kay coach Aldin at sa Converge na kinuha nila ako. I know malaki yung opportunity na 'to para ma-prove yung sarili ko," detailed Melecio
"Para sa akin naman, mas kumportable kaming pareho na ganun e, na may kailangan kaming patunayan. Same kami ng ugali na dapat, may papatunayan kami lagi. Yun ang nagiging motivation namin sa lahat."
Yes, the same can also be said for Ayo, who has time and again thrived at making believers out of doubters.
This time around, he'd have to prove that he's got the goods for the pros. And that those goods are more than enough to overcome a tumultuous last two years which saw him stand at the center of a controversial mass exodus in University of Sto. Tomas as well as an indefinite suspension by the UAAP.
Like before, though, as they go out to prove themselves, they're also expecting this reunion to rekindle a relationship that goes way beyond basketball.
For Melecio, Ayo is the mentor who helped make him believe in himself.
That though he actually missed the playoffs in each of his last two seasons wearing green and white, the skills he had already showcased were nonetheless more than enough for him to be drafted 19th overall in the 2020 PBA Draft.
"Siya yung mentor ko na, at the same time, kaibigan din. Iba talaga, grabe talaga yung relationship namin e," he explained. "Yung connection namin, tingin ko, dahil yun sa pareho kaming palaging palaban."
And for Ayo, Melecio is one of the handful of players whom he has full faith will have his back, no matter what.
The FiberXers may already have several former players of his in Kevin Racal, Jeo Ambohot, Jeron Teng, and Abu Tratter, but it's Melecio whom he has known for over a decade.
This isn't the first time getting Aljun Melecio topped Aldin Ayo's to-do list. It happened before, and it eventually ended with a championship trophy and a silver medal.
This transaction is déjà vu.
Will the result be déjà vu as well?