Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Talking to Ateneo’s Matt Nieto

Talking to Ateneo’s Matt Nieto
by rick olivares pic by the guidon's zach garcia

The dad is actually a softie. During his heyday as an Ateneo Blue Eaglet and then Blue Eagle, Jet Nieto played the three and four-spot. He shot the three, drove like the Barreling Big J, played tough defense and lots of mind games with folks. In fact, during his very last game in an Ateneo uniform right before he went to medical school, he told the referee that if he continued to call ticky tacky fouls on him (it was the championship match against San Sebastian in the national seniors’ finals), he’d beat the crap out of him and he wouldn’t care if he was banned from the game since it was his last ever.

Nieto, aside from being a big shot producer, also made a reputation as a bruiser. When the Ateneo Blue Eagles won its first back-to-back crown in 1987-88, the team guested on Not So Late Night with Edu (Manzano who also once played for La Salle), the show host remarked after learning Nieto was going to med school, “first you break their bones, now you will mend them.”

His twin sons, Mike -- who was born eight minutes ahead of Matt -- aren’t that sort. Matt played the court general while Big Mike, well, he played like his dad – the tough and barreling forward.

After the twins won the UAAP Juniors title four long years ago, the father was proud of them. But as a challenge, he pointed out that they had to win two more crowns – in the seniors division – so they could catch up to him.

Now the brothers are one title away from tying their dad’s record.

It isn’t a game of one-upmanship between father and son. They are actually close. There is a specific time when all three have their talk before the game; any game. The father, a doctor, always makes time to watch all their games. In fact, after Ateneo’s ninth UAAP chip was secured, the brothers made their way across to the father who was seated courtside. They teared up. An end to a long journey of blood and sacrifice and a family’s support for one another.

Growing up, it was always Matt who was chosen for the team with Mike either cut or the last addition. And he was on the bench. Only later did he find his groove and game. He won the UAAP Most Valuable Player Award in his senior year in high school. He added a second trophy later when he was adjudged the Most Valuable Player in the SM-NBTC High School All-Star Game that is patterned after the American McDonald’s All-American Game.

During Season 79, Mike got props for his great game while it was Matt wo struggled. This Season 80, he found his form as the team’s leader.

We spoke with Nieto three days after the historic Game 3 win.

Rick: It has been a couple of days since the victory. Is it still surreal for you?

Matt: It still feels good. Parang nanaginip pa rin ako. This is really the best feeling. I can’t believe that we made it and all our work and sacrifices paid off.

Rick: What popped into your mind as the seconds of Game Three wasted away? At that point, Ateneo was up by five points.

Matt: I wanted to thank Coach Tab (Baldwin) right away. Hug him and say thank you because he has really given me a lot and I really wanted to show my gratitude for all he has done for me.

Rick: You have narrowed the gap of championships between your dad and you twins. What’s a nice anecdote to share about that?

Matt: We talk about na mas magaling pa rin siya because he won back-to-back. But we were all laughing. Wala naman kami masabi ni Mike because this is all family and trust. But malapit na kami ni daddy. Kidding aside, it is his way of pushing us and we all know he is our number one believer.

Rick: This team really bonded in this journey. Can you reflect on that?

Matt: I love this team! It is one heck of a rollercoaster ride. One thing I noticed though is when something is at stake, we got back to our boot camp in Baler where we learned to rely on one another and not as individuals. We picked up more knowledge and maturity in not backing down from challenges. Why I love this team? We have each other’s backs and we are as strong from the first to the last man on the bench. We have no superstar. We’re just a team that follows the magnificent system of Coach Tab.

Rick: Remember a few months before the UAAP, we talked about Chibueze Ikeh and you told me that he was a player transformed. How big was his in terms of winning the title?

Matt: Ikeh is the backbone of the team. And for me, he was the best African player this season. His stats didn’t reflect it but in my opinion, he did a lot of things that didn’t show on the stats sheet that were big things for us.

Rick: Take us back to Game Two of the Final Four against FEU where you pointed to someone. What was that all about?

Matt: Before Game Two, I promised Vince Tolentino that I will do everything to win that game. I didn’t want that to be the last game of his career. He responded by saying he would do the same. So when I hit the dagger shot, I pointed to him. That was for Vince.

Rick: Did getting bloodied piss you off?

Matt: I was quite mad but I was more pissed about not getting the call. My teammates got even more motivated after that lalo na si Mike. Nakita niyo naman kung anong nangyari sa game niya after that.
Rick: Were you afraid of not coming back into the game after that?

Matt: My teammates initially got scared. I stood up and washed the blood on my face and told them I was going to start the third quarter. At that time, Coach Sandy (Arespacochaga) told them, “Huwag niyo pakialam si Matt. Babalik yan. Kilala niyo yan. Si Matt pa.”

Rick: That monster offensive rebound by Thirdy Ravena that led to your three. Touch on that.

Matt: That’s one Blue Eagle flying high. When I released that ball, I knew it was going in. We practiced that shot so many times.

Rick: This team has had the most number of Blue Eaglets since the time of your dad (they had 10 of the 16 men on the 1987 roster). How cool is that and how do you feel about former Blue Eaglet teammate, Enzo Joson, over at NU?

Matt: It’s big for the homegrown players to also win in the seniors division. It means a lot if we can influence our young players to also excel in college. As for Enzo, we were really close since our grade school days. Mas maganda kung magkakasama pa kami but I am proud of him because he is making a name for himself in NU.

For our former Blue Eagle teammates, I am glad that they still support the school even if they are elsewhere na.

Rick: Who was the toughest player for you to guard this season and why?

Matt: NU’s JJ Alejandro. He can shoot and drive and every time we matched up, I was in foul trouble.

Rick: Lastly, how cool is it to win titles with your brother, Mike?

Matt: Ever since we were in grade school, we talked about winning titles every step of the way. And we have. It so cool. But this college championship is the best.


  1. He is a true leader. We need to triplicate him, ie, in addition to Thirdy. Potential leaders are Tyler and SJ ...

    1. If Troy Malilin is willing to stay on the bench a bit longer, he will be Thirdy's heir once he leaves

    2. Is Troy Malilin a leader?

    3. It's a possibility. Also helps that he is potentially as athletic as Thirdy.

      (we will only find out if these are true once he gets much more minutes though).

  2. There are some who say Mamu is Thirdy's heir! Your thoughts!

  3. Rick, A good interview, hopefully in video, could be an interview one for the Ravenas and secondly, for the Nietos.

  4. You know basketball in the Philippines has changed when your dad plays the three/four spot, whereas you (who has the same height/slightly taller) currently play the one/two spot.

  5. How about a video interview of the coaching staff and all the silent heroes...

  6. Video conference of EmilyRatajkowski na lang. Forget all others ...