MANILA, Philippines – Winning championships for Ateneo de Manila University has become a family affair for the Nietos.
The family patriarch, Jet Nieto, was part of the Ateneo squad that won back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988. He made it a point to show his twin sons, Matt and Mike, the banners from those seasons that hung at the Blue Eagle Gym, and from then on, the challenge was set for them.
"Gusto talaga namin siya talunin," Mike said last year, after Ateneo's triumph in the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament. At that point, they had just tied their father's achievement: they all had one title in high school, and two titles in college.
"Na-tie na namin siya sa college," Mike added. "Wala na siyang pagyayabang. But hopefully, ang goal talaga namin ay talunin siya, and three-peat next year."
The twins – lifelong Ateneans – made sure to fulfill their goal before leaving the university. In front of a crowd of over 20,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena – a crowd that included their family – the Nietos helped the Blue Eagles take down University of Santo Tomas (UST), 86-79, in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 82 finals.
The thrilling win clinched the title for the Blue Eagles, and allowed them to complete the first-ever 16-0 season in the history of UAAP men's basketball. And for the Nieto twins, it allowed them to do the one thing they had set their minds to, since the start of the year.
"At the end of the day, si Daddy, back-to-back champions," a giddy Mike told the MOA Arena crowd after the game. "Kami ni Matt, we have three championships for Ateneo, thank you Ateneo!"
For Matt, the title was a fitting end to their Ateneo career. The Nieto twins have been playing for the Blue and White for virtually their entire lives, and to exit as three-time champions was a dream come true. That they made history along the way, with an unprecedented 16-0 campaign, was just icing on the cake.
"Sobrang sarap mag-three-peat," said Matt, who had 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in the title-clinching win. "Lalo na 'pag galing pa sa grade school, sa high school, and you promise your teammates, your family, that you will do everything that you can to win the championship."
"Ang sabi ko lang naman sa kanila, hindi tayo papatalo. Kahit gaano kahirap, kahit ano'ng challenge na dumarating sa 'min, hinding-hindi kami magpapatalo. We’ll just play the Ateneo way," he said.
Jet Nieto, for his part, gamely accepted the jokes from his sons. Mike made sure that their father knew exactly what they did, shouting: "Ever since prep, grade school, high school, college, champion tayo, talo namin si Daddy!"
"What can I say, champion na naman," said Jet, who wore his trademark red shirt in lieu of a blue one.
"First of all, hindi sila magaling hanggang hindi sila nananalo ng three-peat. So hangga't hindi nila natatalo ako, 'yun ang challenge ko sa kanila," he added.
"But I always remind them to be humble. 'Yun lang, 'yun lang."
Having re-set the bar for their family, the Nieto twins are now leaving a challenge for their younger brother, Lebron.
The young Nieto is already part of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, and his older brothers want him to continue the family tradition of winning trophies for the Blue and White.
"Hopefully, sana mag-champion din sa juniors kasi si Lebron, papasok na," said Mike. "May papalit na na bagong Nieto sa juniors."
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