Matt and Mike Nieto didn’t just have a twin thing; the whole Ateneo team had one—sort of.
When the twins got sidelined with injuries and dengue in the middle part of the UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball tournament, the whole team picked up the slack until the brothers were able to return to form at the tail end of the Blue Eagles’ schedule.
That next man up attitude carried Ateneo to its second straight UAAP men’s basketball title after sweeping University of the Philippines in the Season 81 finals.
“Our motto was next man up and it was really evident this season because there were players who got sidelined every other game,” said Mike after Ateneo’s 99-81 Game 2 win Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“It’s really hard getting back but I credit my teammates, the point guards, like Tyler [Tio], SJ [Belangel] for stepping up for me when I wasn’t there,” said Matt. “It’s really a team game and you never know who’ll step up but it’s next man up mentality for us.”
The absence of the twins saw the likes of Tio and Belangel take up major minutes for some stretches in the eliminations while Gian Mamuyac also provided stability in the wing position.
There was also the revelation in William Navarro, who filled in for Raffy Verano when the latter got injured for a few games during the eliminations.
This constant filling in allowed Ateneo to keep its pace and top the league with a 12-2 record en route to its second straight title.
This is also the second title for the twins who matched their father Jet’s accomplishment in 1987 and 1988 in helping steer the Blue Eagles to their first UAAP titles.
The twins said their Season 81 championship meant a little more since they will still have a chance to get more.
“My and Mike’s goal is to just win championships for Ateneo but right now we’re really blessed because we went back-to-back and dad is actually nervous because we want to prove that we can get a three-peat,” said Matt.
Mike said their Jet’s challenge to them started way before he and Matt got into college.
Jet would regularly bring the young twins to Blue Eagle Gym where Ateneo’s championship banners hung and that became motivation to the two current Blue Eagles.
“Us three talked about it when Matt and I were in grade school and before we won our juniors’ title dad told us he won one so that’s where it started,” said Mike who led the Blue Eaglets to the Season 77 championship. “He’d bring us to Blue Eagle Gym and there was his banner in the juniors and the two banners in college and last year he told us that he was still ahead because Matt and I only have one.”
“We really wanted to beat our dad because we only tied him in high school and now we’re tied with him in college so he can’t boast on us. Hopefully, we can get the three-peat next year because that’s the goal,” added Mike.
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