TWINS Matt and Mike Nieto are excited to play in their first UAAP seniors basketball tournament finals - and doubly thrilled that it will be an Ateneo vs La Salle showdown.
But they're not even the first one in the Nieto household to do that.
Matt and Mike's dad, Jett, is a member of the Blue Eagles team that beat La Salle, 76-70, the first time the two longtime rivals met in a UAAP finals back in 1988 at a jampacked Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
The elder Nieto was one of the gunners of that Fritz Gaston-coached Ateneo champion team that also included quarterback Jun Reyes, big man Danny Francisco and power forward Eric Reyes.
Just seeing their dad's eyes light up each time he talked about that game is proof for Matt how the elder Nieto cherished that experienced more than any other in his basketball career.
“He really doesn’t forget that experience in him, paulit-ulit niyang kinekuwento,” Matt said.
“Sabi niya sa amin, he was a scorer and a shooter which we saw in his games dati. But in that championship, his coach wanted him to guard the star player in La Salle and he really put it into heart and accepted his role and that is to stop that player.”
Dad's advice to the twins is to do the same.
“Minsan lang mangyari ‘to. You have to cherish it and huwag mong sasayangin," Matt remembered his dad telling them. "Lalo na it’s our first time to play a championship game in this level of competition.”
According to Matt, their father has also urged them to play with heart and leave everything on the floor.
“Isa lang naman advice niya that he really emphasizes sa amin ni Mike, and that is to play that game with heart. Puso lang while playing the game. Bigay na namin lahat since we are down to their last few games of the season," he said.
“Leave it all on the court. Forget about everything and do whatever it takes for the team to win,” said Matt.
Statistics are thrown out of the window each time Ateneo and La Salle collide, dad also constantly reminds his twins.
“Throw away all the stats, It’s Ateneo vs. La Salle game. It’s about who wants it more, sabi nga ni Daddy,” Matt said.
The Nieto brothers have been to numerous battles with the successful Ateneo juniors program, but they're also starting to leave a mark with the seniors team.
Matt is also thankful to have a veteran coach like Tab Baldwin to guide them.
“Mas matured na kami maglaro compared before because we try to be the leaders on the court as well," said Matt. "Trusting and knowing the system of coach Tab and knowing our roles in the team really helps us a lot since Coach Tab really gives importance on what we can be in the future."
“Hindi lang siya naka-focus sa present but he tries to teach us things for our benefit in the future. We try to be role models to the rookies even if sophomores lang kami and we guide them during practices also,” said Matt.