Matt Nieto thrilled to learn from idols Jayson Castro, Jio Jalalon in Gilas training
Matt Nieto takes pointers from Gilas assistant coach Jong Uichico. Jerome Ascano

MATT Nieto was shocked when he was named to the Gilas Pilipinas' pool for the 2023 Fiba World Cup.

When he attended his first practice with Gilas on Monday, the crafty Ateneo guard was in disbelief to be among rising stars like CJ Perez, Robert Bolick, and his Blue Eagles teammates Isaac Go and Thirdy Ravena training with some of the top professional cagers in the country.

"Di ako mapaniwala. Dinouble check ko nga kung pangalan ko talaga 'yun eh. Sobrang tuwa ko," said Nieto, who missed the first two Gilas practices as he was on vacation.

"Galing Batang Gilas tapos ngayon nasa pool na ako ng Gilas. Talagang pangarap ko talaga makasama sa Gilas kahit sa listahan lang kasi para sa akin, milestone ko na yun eh," he added after his first Gilas practice at the Meralco gym.

Like most newbies, Nieto was elated to see his idols Jio Jalalon and Jayson Castro and learn from the two on how to hone his skills in playing the point guard position.

"Actually na-star struck ako. Di ako makapaniwala na nandito ako eh. Nakita ko pa lang si idol si Jiovani Jalalon, nakikita ko parang… di ako makapaniwala na sa isang practice magkasama kami," he said.

"Sila Kiefer (Ravena), lalo na si Jalalon talaga at si Jayson Castro kasi talagang idol ko talaga sila eh," he added. "Napapasama nga ako nung una eh kasi parang baka akalain nila ‘Sino ba to?’ Wala lang eh. Pero nung nakausap ko na sila medyo na ano na kasi hindi lang sila magaling, sobrang bait pa nila."

Regardless if he makes the 2023 roster or not, Nieto was just thankful for the opportunity to be included in the 23-man pool from which coach Chot Reyes hopes to form his national team five years from now.

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"Kung makasama sa 2023, tagal pa yun eh, bonus na yun. Pero ngayon, makita man lang yung potential ko, nakikita ni coach Chot pati ibang coaches, malaking bagay na yun kasi lahat ng trinabaho namin sa Ateneo, mas nakikita ngayon," he said.  

Follow the writer on Twitter: @janbballesteros