PBA: Mike Nieto remembers playing against NBA-caliber players

Mike Nieto was brilliant on his PBA debut against NorthPort this weekend. PBA Media Office

Before Mike Nieto fulfilled his family’s dream of playing in the PBA, the son of former Ateneo star Jet Nieto relished the opportunity to compete against future and present NBA stars while making part of the national team program.

Nieto made his PBA debut last week and produced the most impressive performance among Gilas players who were selected in the special draft 3 years ago when he finished with 21 points and assisted Rain Or Shine to a 104-90 win over NorthPort Batang Pier.

It was a dream come true to perform on the big stage, but when it comes to the opportunity of a lifetime, Mike, who entered the PBA with his twin brother Matt, Isaac Go, Rey Suerte and Allyn Bulanadi, couldn’t help but look back to when he was playing for the national team.

Eight years ago, the team qualified for the World Under-17 Tournament in Dubai and no one thought the young men’s team would qualify.

Batang Gilas’ side were underdogs in the FIBA ​​Asia Under-16 Championship the previous year with only Richard Escoto, who now sees action for Blackwater Bossing, being the tallest player at 6ft 4 inches.

“Hindi kami inaasahan na papasok at the World Cup. Thanking talaga kami kay boss MVP (Manuel V. Pangilinan), boss Al Panlilio, sila lang po’ yung nagtiwala na ipadala kami sa Iran for representing the Philippines,” Nieto said.

“Nu’ng time na ‘yun with coach Jamike (Jarin) was one of the best times of my life. At that time pinakamalaki lang namin was Richard Escoto who is 6ft 4in. Hind ko makakalimutan’ yun. Grabe ‘yung experience na ‘yun. We finished in silver and qualified for the Dubai tournament.”

In the Under-16 tournament, Nieto and the rest of the Batang Gilas squad faced some of the best Asian players of the era, including Rui Hachimura, the 6ft 8in player who now sees action for the Washington Wizards.

“‘Yung match up namin na’ yun, kalaban si Rui Hachimura, grabe ‘yun sa Batang Gilas, mga ka-match up namin sa stance, 6ft 7in, 6ft 8in, yung China ang lalaki rin,” recalls Nieto.

In the Under-17 tournament in Dubai, the competition grew with no less than the most powerful youth teams in the world, including the United States, then under the banner of future NBA star Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson.

Tatum is currently the star player for the Boston Celtics while Jackson is a 6-foot-8 forward who now plays for the Sacramento Kings.

“Nakalaban namin sina Jason Tatum and Josh Jackson, ngayon mga sikat na sikat na sa NBA. ‘Yun talaga hanggang ngayon na kasama namin sina Jason Tatum, naka-frame pa sa kwarto nina mommy ngayon. Hindi mo na maibabalik ‘yun, pero masasabi mong nakasama mo sila,” Nieto said.

In the Olympic qualifying tournament, Nieto and the rest of the Filipinos faced current NBA players Boban Marjanovic of the Dallas Mavericks and Nemanja Bjelica of the Miami Heat, both playing for the Serbian national team.

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