Matt Nieto – A Superstar in Waiting

Matt Nieto rose to the occasion given this environment.

MATT NIETO Ateneo- a superstar in waiting

Close to 5 years ago, when I was involved in a sports marketing company handling athlete management functions, I was introduced to the Nieto twins, Michael and Matthew.

They were highly recommended by Coach Jamike Jarin who was then head coach of the Batang Gilas  basketball program..  Though not big a name as Jolo Go, Andrei Caracut, Prince Rivero, Aljun Melecio and Thirdy Ravena,  Coach Jamike asked me to consider representing them.  He described the boys as responsible and hardworking and somehow he knew that the boys had a huge future in the game of basketball.

Admittedly, the other players were more sought after.  Their statistics and athleticism were outstanding and most were obviously headed to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).   However, I valued Coach Jarin’s recommendation enough to scout the two Ateneo players.

At first glance, both boys were not specially gifted as athletes.  One had to watch them several times to truly appreciate their potential.

Matthew, then was playing under the shadow of his brother Michael when they were playing for their high school team.  The latter was a dominating big forward and center and was aptly given the monicker, “Big Mike”.  Matthew was trying to find his place in the team competing for playing time for the 1-2 guard position.

Matthew was not particularly flashy nor did he have a mean jump shot.    He was a play maker looking to pass first than to shoot.    He had however a relaxed demeanor while playing obviously confident about his ball handling skills.

I did eventually sign them up because of two reasons:  both boys were above average and were posting consistent numbers, Traits that a coach would definitely consider when filling up his roster.   The second reason was more a marketing one.  There will be a brother story somewhere somehow in the future, I thought.

I kept them close and tried to follow their careers up to their rookie years in Ateneo University.

There were times that we had discussion which  revolved around the idea that each of them will get their time to shine, that they cannot always expect to do well at the same time.  What was remarkable was that each boy was willing to play support for the other when it is called for.

Mike, who was born 1 minute before Matt, had his time in high school.  But as it turns out, Season 80 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP)  seniors basketball tournament was Matthew’s time.

Unfortunately, I had to let them go early in 2015.  I do remember one of the things I suggested to Matt as we were saying our goodbyes.  I simply said that he had to start shooting the ball.  An advice any decent basketball enthusiast would give to a developing point guard.

At that time, Girlie Nieto, their mom intimated to me that Coach Tab Baldwin spoke to Matthew and told him that he will soon be his starting point guard.   The Ateneo team then was in the process of rebuilding as the superstars of the 5-peat series were slowly graduating.    It was a perfect situation for Matt.  What he would do with it would definitely define his basketball future.

Fast forward to last Sunday, December 3,   Matthew Nieto led the Blue Eagles to a championship beating erstwhile rival and defending champion De la Salle University.   Matt was making shots, shooting  threes successfully while directing play for Ateneo.

Ateneo was playing like a well-oiled machine, going back to basics when they found themselves in trouble.  Watching closely will reveal that the players  “restart” their offensive motions when DLSU somehow disrupts their flow.  Several strong penetrations with double picks behind the basket were executed perfectly, a play that the boys from Katipunan kept going to.

Ateneo had no superstar nor were they made up of marquee players .  The system was however running smoothly allowing all to contribute.  Matt Nieto rose to the occasion given this environment.

He was reportedly shooting 44 % from the field a vast improvement from the past seasons where he was shooting below 40%.    He was making clutch 3 pointers and converting all important free throws.

More than that, his demeanor remained the same, a trait which I saw when I first saw him play.  Despite the elbow he took from Mbala in a previous game, Matthew never showed any emotion and instead went ahead doing what was expected of him.

A post series interview quoted Matt Nieto as saying that the summer extra practices truly paid off.  Sowing hardwork truly reaps good results.

I guess both Coach Jamike and Tab are both beaming knowing that they were right about this young basketball player… a superstar in waiting.

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Contributed/ Written by:

Mike Ochosa was  President of Viva Sports Management. He is a sports analyst for television and a freelance sports writer.  He is an international boxing analyst for Ringstar Promotions of Singapore and has called 12 of Pacquiao’s fights at ringside for local Philippine TV.  


Follow him on his FBpage: https://www.facebook.com/coachmikeochosa/,  and his You Tube channel, https://www.facebook.com/coachmikeochosa/,   on his Twitter account, https://twitter.com/mikeochosa 

By the Numbers: How Ateneo Took Game 1

The Blue Eagles didn’t shoot well. But…

One team almost missed the Finals after getting pushed to a do-or-die game back in the Final 4. Fortunately, that team managed to hang on and got things done. On the other hand, the other team made the Finals after dealing with their Final 4 problem in just one game- despite the controversies surrounding the apparent “biased” officiating that their opponents were whining about a day after the game was played. 
As a result, we are treated to another Ateneo-La Salle Finals slugfest. And Game 1 of the best-of-3 championship series didn’t disappoint the 15,000 fans who watched at the Mall of Asia Arena yesterday as they were treated to a heated game- a typical scene for an Ateneo-La Salle game.

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Blood spilled. Elbows were thrown. Bodies were flying everywhere. In the end, the Blue Eagles were able to score just enough and defend late in the 4th quarter to take Game 1 via a 76-70 win over the Green Archers in a game wherein two-time MVP Ben Mbala was not a factor, at all. 
So how did the Blue Eagles pull off another victory against the mighty Archers? Below are the numbers:

Defense on Big Ben

Like it or not, defending Ben Mbala can be a big headache for any team. But in Game 1 of the Finals, not only did Ateneo defenders force Mbala to miss 4 of his SEVEN attempts which resulted to him only scoring 8 points throughout the game, the Blue Eagles defended Mbala so well that he was forced into making 3 turnovers. He also had 4 fouls although he did grab 12 rebounds for the Archers.

Second-Half Surge

Matt Nieto met Ben Mbala’s powerful elbow and sustained a cut in his head. Bloody cut, indeed.
After seeing his twin brother getting hurt, Mike got to retaliate in the second half by scoring all of his 11 points in the final 20 minutes of the game and that was one of the good reasons why Ateneo came out on top. Even though La Salle was threatening late in the game as they cut the lead to a single point, Mike Nieto made sure that the Blue Eagles held on as he also had help from Thirdy Ravena and Isaac Go who scored the three-point play to ice the game.

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Free Throws

Sure, the Blue and White only shot 36% from the field including 27% from the three-point line but they managed to fish 25 fouls from the La Salle defenders which enabled Ateneo to take 30 free throws, making 20. La Salle, on the other hand, went 11 of 19 from the free throw line.

Conclusion

This series is definitely far from over and if you’re Ateneo, expect La Salle, most especially Ben Mbala to come out more aggressive come Game 2 on Wednesday. La Salle hasn’t lost two straight games in 2 seasons. And we can be sure that Aldin Ayo doesn’t intend to break that run now. 

By the Numbers: Ateneo Remains Undefeated After Frustrating UP

UP fought until the Blue Eagles took off for good late in the 4th

Ateneo Blue Eagles vs La Salle Green Archers
Ateneo can end the elimination rounds with a 14-0 record with another win against La Salle.

Sure, the league-leading Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles were able to keep their unblemished state after beating the UP Fighting Maroons, 96-82- in a game that wasn’t decided until the final quarter the Blue Eagles, like they did in their previous games, allowed their opponents to stay within striking distance and only take control of the game in the 4th quarter. 
Sure, the Blue Eagles now have the chance to sweep the elimination rounds and book their ticket to the Finals that will equip them with a thrice-to-beat advantage. 
However, don’t be fooled by the final score as the game was competitive as UP led as much as 12 points before Ateneo came back charging.
How competitive the round 2 of the “Battle of Katipunan” was? 
Below are the numbers:

3-Point Shooting: What Kept UP in the Game. And Not.

Keep in mind that it was actually the UP Fighting Maroons who first beat the defending champions back in their first round. That game saw the Fighting Maroons took 35 shots from beyond the arc and made 16 of them. Against the same team in their second-round encounter, Bo Perasol’s boys only took 32 shots. The result: the Maroons lost. 
Against the Blue Eagles, UP was relatively hot from the three-point line in the first half as they made 50% of their 16 attempts from deep but come the second half, the Fighting Maroons faltered from outside as they only made 3 of 15 from that area, a forgettable 20% shooting. 
Sure, Ateneo was even worse off the three-point line as they only made 7 out of their 24 attempts from that distance but if you missed 18 threes in the second half alone, you cannot expect to win.

Ateneo’s Bench Stepped Up

Sure, Thirdy Ravena only made 2 of his 11 attempts and only scored 10 points but he didn’t have to score more as Isaac Go and Gian Mayumac each scored 13 points, leading Tab Baldwin’s bench troopers. In fact, these two Blue Eagles off the bench almost outscored the entire bench of UP who only managed 29 points, a far cry to the entire bench of Ateneo who combined for 49 of the Eagles’ 96 points. 

Ateneo Shut Down Desiderio

Paul Desiderio had 16 points against Ateneo yesterday but only had 3 points after halftime. This can be associated with the amazing job of Third Ravena and Matt Nieto who took turns in defending and frustrating UP’s main guy on offense. Overall, the Eagles’ defensive efforts were not wasted as they were rewarded with their 13th win in 13 games- all thanks to limiting Desiderio to 33% shooting from the field, including 30% from 3. 

Conclusion

The Blue Eagles will have the opportunity to sweep the elimination rounds assuming they beat La Salle anew. But knowing that this is another Ateneo-La Salle slugfest, anything can happen especially when we look at how their first-round encounter ended, Ateneo can only hope that Thirdy Ravena will regain his groove come Sunday because the Eagles will need everyone on board especially when defending Big Ben Mbala. 
Mind you, folks, it was Ateneo who snapped La Salle’s 13-game winning streak last season. Now? La Salle has the firepower to return the favor.