‘Big Mike’ doesn’t need big numbers to play big for Ateneo

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Dec 09, 2017 08:00 PM
‘Big Mike’ doesn’t need big numbers to play big for Ateneo
Mike Nieto's leadership has never ever been questioned

Mike Nieto was scoreless for all of Game 3 last Sunday, and yet, he was on the floor in Ateneo de Manila University’s championship-clinching possession.

Yes, in that play where Thirdy Ravena found Isaac Go for a booming triple, Nieto was there – also standing as a threat for the game-winning shot.

Much more than that, however, and really, much more than his scoring, the 19-year-old Nieto was there because coach Tab Baldwin trusted him to do the thing he excels at – lead the Blue Eagles.

And after they came away with the Game 3 win and the championship, Nieto said he was happy he didn’t let his mentor down. “You know, I didn’t score any points, but I think that’s the best game I’ve played (the last two seasons) kasi I just led the team together with Vince [Tolentino],” he shared.

He then continued, “Kahit hindi ako naka-shoot, I was there to help my team win and lead them on and off the court.”

That is exactly why even though he was both scoreless in Ateneo’s Game 3 win and Game 2 loss, Baldwin was nothing but proud of how co-captain Nieto bounced back. “After Game 2, he stepped forward and tried to take responsibility for the loss. Of course, he didn’t deserve it, but he was prepared to be vocal in faikure,” he said.

He then continued, “I hink that’s a great quality of a great leader – to take pressure off of people when things don’t go well.”

After scoring 11 points in their Game 1 win, Nieto had no makes in Game 2 to see he and the Blue Eagles fall to their archrivals. 

Indeed, though he wasn’t the only one who struggled then, he took the blame as one of the leaders. “I admitted my mistake then. Sabi ko, sa akin niyo na isisi yan kasi I didn’t lead the team properly and that was my role,” he said.

Given another chance, though, former UAAP Juniors MVP Nieto helped lead Ateneo to its first title in five years.

And now that team captain Vince Tolentino is graduating, Nieto said he is nothing but ready and raring to take full leadership for the Blue Eagles for next season and beyond. “There’s always an opportunity for me to lead the team and if given a chance to be a captain again, it would be an honor,” he told reporters in the press conference before their bonfire inside campus on Saturday.

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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