With no more holes in his game, Ateneo's Matt Nieto now realizing his potential

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Oct 21, 2017 08:57 PM
Ateneo's Matt Nieto now realizing his potential
BLUE-CHIP TO BLUE EAGLE. Matt Nieto has placed himself completely in the hands of coach Tab Baldwin.

Edging out the likes of Koko Pingoy and Hubert Cani for Ateneo de Manila University’s starting point guard position a season ago, Matt Nieto instead had for himself a sophomore slump.

Nieto only averaged 5.2 points in 32.9 percent shooting to go along with 2.1 assists and 1.9 turnovers in 16.4 minutes of play.

A two-way force even back in his time in the Juniors, the six-foot-one guard was tentative on offense and ineffective on defense.

The tide has turned now in the UAAP 80 Men’s Basketball Tournament.

With per game counts of 10.8 points in 40.5 percent shooting to go along with three rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals all while serving as a key cog in the Blue Eagles’ league-best undefeated 10-0 standing, Nieto has the starting point guard position on lock.

Apparently, the turnaround began when the now 19-year-old placed himself completely in the hands of coach Tab Baldwin. “I just followed what coach Tab has been telling me that I just have to work on my weaknesses. Sabi niya, if I want to be the leader of the team, I have to be this and this and this,” he shared.

He then continued, “So I just followed every time.”

And so, after only converting a total of seven triples in his first two seasons, Nieto now has 19 made threes in just 10 games. Also, after only collecting 15 steals in his first two seasons, he now has 14 pilfers in just 10 games.

Of course, Nieto has good grounds to have faith in a mentor who has led the New Zealand national basketball team to fourth-place in the 2002 FIBA World Championships and to one win in the 2004 Athens Olympics. “Coach Tab has coached national teams and underdogs so tumatak lang sa akin na if I follow my coach, I know he’ll make me reach my full potential as a player,” he said.

Now, Ateneo is reaping the rewards of a former blue-chip recruit turning himself into a UAAP star.

And it’s not just his skills he has been improving.

Injury-prone in his first two seasons, Nieto has now started in all of the Blue Eagles’ 10 games in the tournament. “I have been working hard with the weights. I really tried to gain more muscle para iwas injury and I strengthened my knee kasi yun yung weakness ko,” he said.

He then continued, “I’m more stable now.”

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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