MANILA, Philippines – Twins Matt and Mike Nieto left a legacy of winning in the Ateneo de Manila University men's basketball program, but they also left a lasting impression on head coach Tab Baldwin.
The Nieto brothers were the backbone of the Blue Eagles, both on and off the court, for the past four years. Matt was the floor general who kept the team together and made the right decisions virtually every time, while Mike was the locker room leader whose voice everyone respected.
Baldwin spoke highly of the twins on Wednesday, as the team was taking in the aftermath of their triumph in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament.
"Mike is probably a natural leader. Mike is a communicator. Mike is a thinker," said Baldwin of their team captain.
In his final season for Ateneo, Mike only averaged 4.43 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, while averaging just over 15 minutes per contest. But his value to the Blue Eagles had never been limited to his production inside the court.
For Baldwin, it is what Mike does off the court and how he holds the team together that makes him so special. So exceptional is Mike's leadership qualities that Baldwin had no qualms in predicting that his player will "make a mark on the world."
"Look at all of us up here, and think about where we're gonna be in 10 or 15 years," said Baldwin. "You'll forget most of us but you won’t forget Mike Nieto."
"He will make a mark on this world that the rest of us may try to do in sport," he said. "In terms of touching people, making lives better, giving of himself, and making sure that everybody around him has a better chance than what he has, that’s our captain."
"He makes our coaching staff better," Baldwin added.
Matt, meanwhile, is someone that Baldwin considers "between a brother and a son." "Certainly, a friend," the coach said of the point guard.
Matt emerged as the Blue Eagles' court general in Season 79, after the departure of heavily hyped recruits Jerie Pingoy and Hubert Cani. He proved himself worthy of Baldwin's trust, and became Ateneo's go-to operator in crunch time.
While Matt never put up big numbers – he averaged just 7 points and 2.71 assists per game in his final season – there was no doubt as to his status as one of the best point guards in college basketball. For Baldwin, what made Matt so special was his competitive fire.
"You can just put a 'W' on his head. He's a winner. He wins all the time," said Baldwin of Matt.
"And losing hurts him more than anybody else," he added. "He takes it personal and he carries it onto the next event so he doesn’t lose that one."
Baldwin went on to pay Matt the ultimate compliment. "I think all of these guys give us a lot of character but a lot of times, as Matt goes, we go," he said.
"The rest, he knows," the coach added. "I've told him. He's a special human being."
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