There’s a lot more mystery and intrigue surrounding the 2022 batch of high school hoopers. Compared to the years past, there haven’t been many local tournaments to see these kids play (for obvious reasons).
But Lebron Nieto is a name that even casual Filipino basketball fans would recognize. He’s another standout amateur hooper named after The King, and has a pretty known last name. His dad, Jet, won two UAAP championships for Ateneo in the 80s, and his brothers, Mike and Matt, won three of their own and are now both strutting their stuff in the PBA.
Nieto, however, isn’t a SLAM Rising Star just because of the acclaim in the last name. He has earned his spot, quickly cementing his place as one of the best high school hoopers in the country. He’s on a similar trajectory as Mike and Matt: dominating the grade school leagues, featuring for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, and even captaining the Gilas Youth Team in the 2022 FIBA U-16 Asian Championship in Doha.
It’s also easy to see similarities to his kuyas in the way Nieto plays. Like Matt, Lebron is your prototypical point guard, steering the ship with a steady handle with the ability to hound guards on the perimeter. And like Mike, Lebron prides himself as an outside shooter. While Lebron Nieto is still finding consistency from deep (he shot 1-of-21 from 3 for Gilas Youth), his lefty form looks smooth and he’s already a great free throw shooter.
The comparison and association to his brothers is something Nieto definitely hears, given their success in all levels of basketball. But this doesn’t faze him in the slightest.
“Wala naman pressure na kapatid ko sila,” Nieto told SLAM Philippines. “Mas masaya nga kasi mas nabibigyan pa nila ako ng pointers.”
His brothers definitely know what it’s like being a top high school prospect, and Nieto looks up to them for guidance, both off the court and as a player. Nieto would practice with them twice a day in their home court during the peak of the pandemic—a luxury to train with proven UAAP and PBA cagers with leagues and face-to-face team practices canceled due to the pandemic.
Nieto is still cognizant of the fact that he needs to improve his game further to succeed in the UAAP ranks, as his UAAP Juniors debut was delayed by more than two years. He’s working on being a better facilitator for his teammates, both as a playmaker and a vocal leader as one of the remaining veterans left on the Ateneo Blue Eaglets.
But the UAAP seems to be something that Nieto—and his family—have been ready for even since he was a kid. In their thanksgiving speeches after winning the Ateneo five-peat in 2019, both Mike and Matt lauded their younger brother, with Mike telling the Ateneo crowd to watch out for the rising kid on the block.
“You were named Lebron for a reason,” Mike said, talking to his younger brother during his speech. “Daddy has two. [Matt and I] have three. Now it’s your time to shine.”
Three years later, and Lebron Nieto is on his way. Will he eventually win four in college? Who knows. But with the current track that he’s on, there’s no limit on how high he can go.
[The 2022 SLAM Rising Stars Classic Tournament presented by ANTA tips off on July 30 at the Gatorade Hoops Center]