If Thirdy Ravena was Ateneo’s big-time player, Matt Nieto was the Blue Eagles’ conductor.
Besides being the floor general of the team, the 6-foot guard — who has been with Ateneo all his life — was as clutch as one could come.
Who can forget the triple he knocked down during the 2018 William Jones Cup that beat Chinese-Taipei? Yes, the Taiwanese’s Men’s National Basketball Team.
Besides that moment, Nieto has steered the Blue Eagles to three UAAP championships and a silver medal.
But for head coach Tab Baldwin, Nieto, who is 39 years his junior, is more than just one of his players.
“This guy right here (Matt), he’s something between a brother and a son, certainly a friend.”
And it’s because of the way Nieto exudes confidence wherever he is.
Just like Baldwin, Nieto hates losing. A playoff loss hurts him the same way as an elimination round game does.
It’s the same mindset Baldwin brings either in the World Cup or in the UAAP.
“You can just put a W on his head. He’s a winner. He wins all the time,” said Baldwin about Nieto, who is a three-time UAAP Men’s and a one-time Boys’ champion.
“Losing hurts him more than anybody else. And he takes it personally and he carries it onto the next event so he doesn’t lose that one.”
With his time in Ateneo coming to an end, Nieto made sure to pass it to the guards next in line — SJ Belangel and Tyler Tio.
Baldwin knows that there will never be another Matt Nieto, though.
“I think all of these guys give us a lot of character but a lot of times, as Matt goes, we go. I’ve told him. He’s a special human being.”