Matt Nieto rose to the occasion given this environment.
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.
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.