Promises and a lucky red shirt: Nieto twins continue father's legacy
MANILA, Philippines – Former Ateneo Blue Eaglets stars Mike and Matt Nieto had a decorated juniors career as they were able to deliver the 2015 UAAP championship for the Blue Eaglets. Internationally, they bannered the Philippines to win gold in the 2013 U-16 SEABA championships and silver in the 2013 U-16 FIBA Asia Championships, allowing them to take part in the 2014 U-17 FIBA World Championships.
But upon their entry to the seniors division in 2015, the rookie Nieto twins received criticisms on how they were unable to matchup with their senior counterparts.
The older of the Nieto twins, Mike, was pressured to go up against big men who made him pour out a lot of effort to develop his dribbling and shooting skills. The younger twin, Matt, on the other hand, had to prove himself worthy of a point guard spot in the Season 78 Ateneo seniors roster behind former Blue Eagles Jerie Pingoy and Hubert Cani.
Come Season 80, the 3rd year Blue Eagle twins were already set on the path of clinching their first seniors division championship with the Coach Tab Baldwin-led squad. Ateneo had a successful regular season, finishing top seed with a 13-1 record and claiming a twice-to-beat advantage.
But drama continued to haunt them as the Blue Eagles were forced to overcome a two-game semi-finals series against the 4th seeded Far Eastern University Tamaraws.
At this moment, the first wholehearted promise came from the twins.
According to Fabiilioh photographer @JojiCL's tweet, Kuya Mike and Kuya Matt made a big promise to their younger brother Josh that the Blue Eagles would defeat the Tamaraws. It took a cardiac overtime period to see Ateneo earn the right to face the Season 79 champions De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers in the finals.
The first promise had been fulfilled.
After taking game 1 of the best-of-three finals series, the Blue Eagles were already a win away from securing the title, but they fell short in game 2 as the Green Archers erased Ateneo's 21-point lead. (READ: DLSU Green Archers take game 2, set do-or-die vs Ateneo Blue Eagles)
A second promise had to be made.
The father of the Nieto twins, Jet Nieto, was a former Blue Eagle who was a member of Ateneo's first UAAP seniors championship in 1987 and went back-to-back in 1988. 30 years later, the 51-year-old Nieto finally felt that it was time to tell his sons: "It’s time na for you to win the championship."
Without hesitation, Mike had a quick reply to his father's wishes: "Dad, we’ll get it this year."
In game 3, the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers were tied at 66-all heading into the 4th quarter. Both teams fought tooth-and-nail in the payoff period. The Blue Eagles led by as much as 9 points, but the Green Archers still managed to spark a run in the last two minutes of the game. The buzzer then sounded when the score was 88-86 in favor the Blue Eagles. (READ: 'BEST GAME EVER': Netizens react to cardiac UAAP Season 80 Finals Game 3)
It was at that moment when Mike Nieto's promise to his father was fulfilled.
"Kasi pag si Mike, when he promises, it usually comes true," exclaimed Jet Nieto to Rappler.
"Everytime he promises, like when he promises that he would win the championship sa 17-under, he did it! He promised a championship in the juniors, he did it!"
Because of that promise made by Mike, the elder Nieto wore his lucky red shirt to the do-or-die match in the hopes of seeing his two boys bring the title home to Katipunan again after a 5-year wait.
"That’s why I was wearing the red shirt kanina," explained the Nieto patriarch. "The red shirt was a champion shirt noong high school sila. Every time na nasa championship sila, I usually wear that."
The elder Nieto failed to wear the shirt during the 2nd finals game, which led to the twins questioning their dad, but Jet Nieto just shrugged it off and promised to wear in on their last game.
It took two big promises for the celebrated Nieto twins to continue the legacy of the Nieto blood line. Everyone just had to see it happen 30 years later after Jet Nieto led the Blue Eagles to their first championship in the UAAP.